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Bioremediation Challenges Originating from Mining and Related Activities in South Africa | OMICS International
ISSN: 2155-6199
Journal of Bioremediation & Biodegradation

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Bioremediation Challenges Originating from Mining and Related Activities in South Africa

Roman Tandlich*
Environmental Health and Biotechnology Research Group, Division of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, Rhodes University, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
Corresponding Author : Roman Tandlich
Environmental Health and Biotechnology Research Group
Division of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy
P.O. Box 94, Rhodes University, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
Tel: 00-27-46-603-8825
Fax: 00-27-46-636-1205
E-mail: [email protected]
March 14, 2012; Accepted March 16, 2012; Published March 18, 2012
Citation: Tandlich R (2012) Bioremediation Challenges Originating from Mining and Related Activities in South Africa. J Bioremed Biodegrad 3:e108. doi: 10.4172/2155-6199.1000e108
Copyright: © 2012 Tandlich R. This is an open-a ccess article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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South Africa contains major reserves of rare metals such as the platinum group metals [1]. At the same time, mining accounts for a sizable portion of the gross domestic product of the country. Many of the old mines have been decommissioned and remedial processes are underway and mines in operations have adopted zero-discharge approaches [2]. However, pollution sources from mining and related operations such as slimes dams and tailings pose serious environmental problems. South Africa is a water stressed country [3] and up to 88 % of the wastewater produced originates from the acid-mine drainage [4]. The acid-mine drainage is defined as the wastewater with very low pH and which is rich in sulphides, inorganic salts and a variety of mostly heavy metals [5]. Production of this wastewater occurs in the open-mine shafts, from runoff from tailings and other mining related activities [2]. Based on the geology of the mined areas, the type of mining operation, environmental temperature, presence of oxygen and volume of water which is available at the given mining site ultimately dictate the highly variable composition of this type of wastewater [4]. Drainage of the shafts that have already been filled by acid-mine drainage is often delayed due to the protracted liability and payment for the remediation [2,6].
Volume of the acid-mine drainage can account for up to 10 % of the potable water resources in a metropolitan area [4] and the cost of remediation has been estimated at R3000.00 per 1 million litres (approximately 400 USD per 1 megalitre of acid-mine drainage) [4]. Treatment has been centralised in the form of government-mining industry-community partnerships, e.g. the Western Utility Corporation in the Gauteng Province [6] and the Emalahleni Water Reclamation Plant in the Mpumalanga Province [4]. These are designed to treat 25 to 300 Ml of wastewater per day and are based on technologies such as the Rhodes University BIOSURE process [5]. Therefore treatment of this type of wastewater is feasible, but financial challenges remain and an initial investment of 123 million USD will have to be committed by the National Government for the project to succeed [6].
Slimes dams and tailing have been shown to contain high concentrations of nitrates [7] and trace amounts of platinum-group metals and heavy metals including vanadium [8]. Radioactivity has been shown to contaminate water resources in areas such as the West Rand in South Africa [9]. Sink holes and open/abandoned mine shafts leave the possibility of groundwater through preferential transport and percolation down the soil profile is also possible. Degree of the latter for heavy metals will depend on the pH of the soil, chemical composition of soil organic matter and microbial activity at the site [10]. Knowledge gaps currently exist in South African literature about the movement of metals through the major soil types in South Africa. At the same time, bioremediation of the mixed type of wastes which contain organic compounds and metals have only been examined in isolated studies [11]. These knowledge gaps will have to be addressed urgently and dedicated funding opportunities will have to be created in the near future to meet the mining bioremediation challenges in South Africa.
 
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