Gauteng and NW Province

Acid Mine Drainage, the Unseen Enemy

Acid Mine Drainage, the Unseen Enemy

by Walter D. Lawhorn

A quiet mountain stream flows through a beautiful mountain valley full of life and vigor. But unknown to the naked eye is the fact that this stream is polluted by a force that originates from nature itself, and not from some manmade toxic waste or radioactive material. It is a process induced by mining. It can be years after the closing of a mine before a change is noticeable. By the time someone realizes what is happening to the streams, rivers, and lakes, it may be too late. This blight that is traveling through the water ways and infecting the aquifer is known as acid mine drainage (AMD.). The above picture illustrates the effects of acid mine drainage in a stream This occurrence results from the continuos quest for wealth that mankind tries to quench by scoring the earth in order to obtain precious minerals and /or metals. The main culprits for this action are metal sulfides such as iron disulfide, also known as pyrite or fools gold.1 Acid mine drainage can be found almost everywhere in the United States, and it does not require a special process to become toxic to the waterways. The lethal effect results from the reaction of pyrite to oxygen and water cause a lowering of pH due to the formation of acid. Also, there is a precipitant that blocks out the sunlight, restricting plant growth and virtually upsetting the balance of many waterways. The effects are sometimes devastating to the plants and animals in the environment surrounding the mine. Presently, many companies are developing options to help solve the acid mine drainage problem. Some solutions are more expensive than others, but all require time. Acid mine drainage is an indirect problem due to the uncovering of pyrite which reacts and pollutes the environment with an acidity problem difficult to solve.

And what will Gauteng do if this is what the Vaal Dam will look like? It’s been predicted, but did anybody pay attention? Ermelo’s water crisis has been predicted, did anybody listen? Water is the most precious thing on earth yet we pay no notice to the predictions. Please harvest your own rainwater, recycle your grey water, conserve water. Do your best, no matter how big or how small. Water conservation is a shared responsibility.

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