Pollution caused by mining activities at BCL Mine which has been raging on since the opening of the mine in 1979 entered Parliament again through a question from MP for Mmadinare Kefentse Mzwinila this week. It was the second part of the question and its answer which can make any environmentalist and resident of villages surrounding the copper mining town to shiver on their spines as it revealed how the copper nickel mine is polluting the rivers of Motloutse and Mathathane.
In answer to what happens to the wastewater from the mine, Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said BCL recycle some of the water from their facilities but releases excess water to flow into the tributaries leading to Mathathane and Motloutse rivers. The two rivers are used as a source of water for livestock and communities living around them and the revelation by Tshekedi Khama means their health and that of their livestock is compromised.
The mine's operations pump out millions of cubic meters of water and four million cubic meters of tailings (refuse remaining after ore has been processed) per year. Khama said that his ministry is constantly engaging BCL to desist from the practice of overflowing wastewater into the open environment due to the possibility of cumulative pollution and the risk to public health. “We continue to monitor the situation for the best environmental management practice,” said Khama in his response.
Mzwinila whose constituency falls within the radius of BCL Mine also wanted to know whether there are any harmful effects to people, animals or the environment from the smoke emitted from the copper nickel mine. In his answer MWET stated that the aspect of the effects can only be determined through health related research or study by the Ministry of Health. “However scientific evidence shows that sulphur dioxide, which is the primary chemical in the emitted smoke does have effect on the public health and the environment over a longer time of exposure,” said Khama.
Research has shown that BCL emits 534,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide annually and a further 5,500 tonnes of silica and nickel dust over the same period. The research which was sponsored by European Union under the program Economic Diversification of the Mining Sector (EDMS) Programme revealed that BCL pumps out 330,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide directly and indirectly per year. The suphur dioxide is said to be a danger to people with respiratory problems and can also irritate the lungs.
Early this year when addressing members of the media, BCL Managing Director Dan Mahupela said that as part of their POLARIS II they are going to use their wastewater for landscaping especially at their golf course and Softball pitch and also recycle the water and use for irrigation at their farm.
Regarding the sulphur dioxide, Mahupela said that they are going to turn it into valuable products. He said in collaboration with a Dubai based company, Konsultanz, they have completed a prefeasibility study to prove the viability of a range of chemical products including fertilizer, stock feed and detergent soap. “The feasibility study is now being advanced to bankable stages with sourcing of raw materials as a key priority. It is anticipated that the study will be completed by December 2015,” Mahupela said.
It is hoped that the interventions will help in addressing the pollution concerns from the BCL smelter which has been on going.