Closed mine continues polluting environment, endangering lives
Rehabilitation funds diverted to run BCL operations
About P5 billion needed for rehabilitation
The closed BCL mines will continue polluting the environment and endangering thousands of both human and animal lives because Government does not have the P2-5 billion needed for rehabilitation purposes, Minister of minerals has revealed.
Tshekedi Khama, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, made the revelation in Parliament on Tuesday, saying funds intended for rehabilitation of the BCL mines have been diverted exposing the mining town of Selibe Phikwe and its surroundings to grave danger. He said while still in operation the company had saved about P1 billion towards an environmental degradation plan and half of the funds were diverted towards the running of BCL. “Now, because when the actual issue came up for the environment, there was no funding available from the mine to actually being the process,” he said.
He said that although a complete study has not been done to determine the extent and cost of degradation of the environment preliminary studies have shown that it will cost between two to five billion pula over a period of 20 years. Khama said the eminent environmental hazards that are likely to come with the closure of BCL mine include contamination of the local groundwater aquifer, dust emissions from the tailings storage facility, high levels of sulphate pollution, pollution of surface water sources, soil erosion and risk of permanent degradation. BCL mine-whose operations gobbled 16 million litres of water monthly supplied by Water Utilities Corporation (WUC)-only recycled a percentage of the wastewater, and released excess effluent into channels connecting Mathathane and Motloutse rivers. Downstream, this polluted/ contaminated water from the two rivers is used by local communities to water livestock and for other domestic uses, compromising the health of the animals and people.
“The most significant risk is the effect on water quality and whether the available water resources will be fit for human consumption and whether it will remain adequate to support aquatic life, terrestrial wildlife and livestock farming,” he said.
Khama said that the initial stage of the project are expected to be implemented effective from this year and that the rehabilitation plan which is yet to be developed will also cover environment, economy and society within Selibe Phikwe area.
Khama's answer corroborates the shocking revelation made by the provisional liquidator of BCL mine, Nigel Dixon-Warren, after engaging top notch mining experts from South Africa – Min Corp consultants – to assess the status of the asset and advice on its potential to be disposed as a going concern. BCL Management had estimated the value per the Statement of Affairs of the Environmental rehabilitation obligation at P1, 040,756,755, but the provisional liquidator warned that it is considered to be significantly more (up to three times the amount provided for based on an-updated and amended EMP).
Pollution caused by mining activities at BCL Mine which has been raging on since the opening of the mine in 1979 and in 2015 Minister Khama informed parliament that 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.
Before its closure, BCL pump out millions of cubic meters of water and four million cubic meters of tailings (refuse remaining after ore has been processed) per year. Research has shown that BCL emitted 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 pumped out 330,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide directly and indirectly per year. The sulphur dioxide is said to be a danger to people with respiratory problems and can also irritate the lungs.
Former Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang wanted to know the eminent environmental hazards following the closure of BCL mine, what government is doing to attend to these; and the estimated costs of the identified environmental issues.
Independent research from University of Botswana (UB) environmental scholars has also confirmed that indeed the BCL mines was having debilitating effects on the environment around Selibe Phikwe. A researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Botswana, Moagi Letshwenyo, found that soil and Grewia bicolor (moretlwa) leaves around BCL are contaminated with heavy metals on the downwind side, where also concentrations of sulphur were found to be elevated when compared to the upwind side. Letshwenyo's research-published in the Journal of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology (July 2016)- was on the topic "Sulphur and heavy metals contents in soils and Grewia bicolor leaves around the Selibe Phikwe Cu-Ni mine (BCL), Botswana".
In 2011 research by Ekosse G from Directorate of Research Development-Walter Sisulu University Eastern Cape, South Africa-on the topic "Health status within the precincts of a nickel-copper mining and smelting environment" was published in the journal African Health Sciences. The study focused on elucidating on the health status of residents within the precincts of the mine and the smelting plant in Selebi Phikwe. The study revealed that health hazards increased with closeness to the mine and the smelter plant. Ekosse concluded that in order to reduce the health hazards due to mining activities at Selebi Phikwe, the residents should avoid staying outdoors as much as possible where the risk of exposure to contaminated air is quite high; and for those who are frail in health, they should consider relocation to other township areas away from the sulphur-rich gases and fumes.