The mining sector is one of the largest sources of income in South Africa, after the Agricultural sector. It has been a major supporter to the industrialization of South Africa after the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in1871, and the Witwaterstand goldfields in 1886 (Sorenses, 2012, p.22). This essay would be focusing more on the environmental and social effects mining of Coal, Gold and Uranium has on the soil in South Africa. The waste tailings from the mines are been washed away into the drainage and water system, and atmospheric sulphur, SO2, is been absorbed into the atmosphere causing acid rain. The effluent from the Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) enters surface water bodies and the groundwater increasing the pH level, resulting in the degradation of aquatic habitats and, therefore, reducing the soil quality (Davies and Mundalamo, 2010, p.661). Contact and ingestion of infected crops cause various diseases to humans.
State of Aim:
This essay focuses on giving a detailed insight on the dangerous effect on the soil and people of South Africa caused by the mining of various mineral resources (E.g. coal, gold, Uranium) and give suggestions on how to curb these effects.
Impacts of mining on the Biophysical Environment:
South Africa has an abundance of mineral resources, and has been mining for hundreds of years. Mining is referred to as the extraction of minerals such as coal, Uranium, Gold and so on. The mining of heavy metals has a long tradition in South Africa, especially in the territory surrounding Pretoria and Johannesburg (Gzik, Kuehling, Schneider & Tschochner, 2003). These metals are responsible for the alteration of the chemistry of the environment through the release of greenhouse gases such as Sulphur to the atmosphere.
Fig. 1. Some major mineral occurrences in South Africa (scale approx.).
Source: http://cnx.org/content/m22302/latest/graphics1.png (Davies and Mundalamo, 2010, p.653).
Fig. 1. Shows the various minerals spread across South Africa; volcanogenic massive sulphides, coal deposits, and many of these ores contain large concentration of harmful substances such as Pb, As, U etc. Soil nutrient deficiency as a result of binding trace element metals and high acidity leads to a wide range of diseases (Davies and Mundalamo, 2010, p.653). The inflow of heavy metals to crops by contaminated soil, metals transfer through natural food chain and are threatening to human health.
One major problem is the acid rain and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), caused by atmospheric sulphur in form of rain, or Aquatic S in form of AMD contaminating underground water, spreading into rivers, killing aquatic animals, and reducing soil fertility.
Fig. 2. The Olifants River draining Mpumelanga is collapsing, specifically because of acid rain. (Davies and mundalamo, 2010, p.662)
Fig. 2. Depicts the effect of acid rain on a vegetation. Acid rain leaches away essential nutrients and minerals from...