Toxic spill into Olifants River system contained

2014-01-12 15:56
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Mbombela - The company responsible for a toxic spill into the Selati and Olifants rivers, said the leak has been repaired.

The leak killed fish over a 15km stretch of water and forced the Kruger National Park, through which the Olifants flows, to switch to borehole water to protect several camps that usually use river water.

Bosveld Phosphates chief executive Andrew McLaggan said in a press statement that exceptional rainfall in late December caused an impoundment dam at the company’s fertiliser manufacturing plant in Phalaborwa to overflow.

“This resulted in a spillage of contaminated process water into the Selati River for a brief period on 30 December 2013. Bosveld engineers responded immediately to the emergency and the leak was repaired within 24 hours,” said McLaggan.

McLaggan said it was later found on 31 December that a concrete storm water canal on the site had cracked due to water pressure, resulting in a secondary leak into the river.

“This had been reduced to a trickle by 1 January and stopped completely on 6 January 2014. Bosveld is confident that, due to the very high dilution factor caused by strong flows in the Selati River and the Olifants River downstream, there will be no lasting harm to the environment,” he said.

The Bosveld team has been wrestling with a legacy of water management challenges since acquiring the mothballed plant from Sasol in October 2011 and starting operations early in 2012, McLaggan said.

“The challenge was compounded by the extraordinarily high rainfall in the Phalaborwa area over the past two years, exceeding the 1:50 year flood level in January 2012 and the 1:100 year flood level in January 2013, exacerbated by very high rainfall in December 2013,” McLaggan said.

According to the press statement, the directors of Bosveld will continue with their efforts to put in place long term corrective measures that are agreed in close consultation with external specialists and the relevant authorities.

Meanwhile, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) has laid criminal charges against the company's owners.

“We have already taken administrative action and have laid criminal charges against Bosveld Phosphates for contravening the National Water Act,” said DWEA director for compliance monitoring and enforcement Nigel Adams. 

Adams said that samples had revealed water quality in the dam was well below the levels stipulated in the Act.

“Meetings with the mining company are taking place to come up with an action plan. This is a parallel process focusing on both investigating the incident and preventing further incidents,” said Adams.

Adams added that more charges could be added depending on the results of the investigation.

“We are adopting a zero tolerance approach and want to have everything investigated as soon as possible,” Adams said.

SANParks spokesperson Ike Phaahla said that a forensic report on the incident was being compiled and would be released soon.

Read more on:    mbombela  |  environment

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