- SOUTH AFRICA -- Elise Tempelhoff,
an investigative journalist at the Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld in
Johannesburg, South Africa, has published details of a restricted scientific
German report which has found that more than 400,000 people living along
a 100-km stretch of the Wonderfontein Spruit in Gauteng province are being
seriously contaminated by, among others, dangerously high levels of radioactive
radium-pollutants including lead and radioactive polonium - similar to
the substance which had killed former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in
London on November 23, 2006.
- This lethal pollution comes from Harmony Gold Mines,
the fifth-largest producer of gold in the world, and which also produces
uranium as a byproduct of its gold-mining operations. More than 400,000
people, their livestock and crops rely on water from this South African
stream which has now been found so dangerously polluted.
- The report by a group of German physicists headed by
Dr Rainer Barthel stressed that there was ' no natural water in the whole
area that was safe for use by humans, animals or plants - ' adding that
the livestock of the subsistence-farmers living along this stream, are
also stirring up the radioactive mud, thus endangering people even more
-- and were at particularly high risk. People should not eat any meat from
this livestock, drink any of its milk, nor consume any of the crops irrigated
with this dangerously polluted water...
- According to Barthel 's report, the water from the Wonderfontein
Spruit, used to irrigate the crops, had absorbed polonium and lead, the
radioactive by products of uranium and radium. More than 400,000 people
live in the area ranging from the towns of Randfontein, Bekkersdal, Carletonville,
Westonaria, Khutsong and Welverdiend, their livestock drinks from the river
and their crops are irrigated from it.
- Barthel was prevented from delivering two speeches from
the report at the Environmin 2007 conference at the Pilanesberg nature
reserve two weeks ago. He had to withdraw these speeches at short notice.
These two excerpts had by then already been included in the literature
distributed at the conference and were obtained by the Beeld journalist.
- International experts say people who eat or drink these
products could suffer liver or kidney failure or get cancer. It could also
hamper children's growth and cause mental disability. German physicists
working with Dr Rainer Barthel from BS Associates warn that the water from
the Wonderfontein Spruit, which was used to irrigate the crops, had absorbed
polonium and lead, the radioactive byproducts of uranium and radium. Cattle
- Cattle drinking from the Wonderfontein Spruit that churned
up the uranium-rich mud, were also contaminated by these radioactive pollutants.
Their meat and milk would also probably be poisonous. This report by the
Germans, known as the Brenk report, was compiled on request of the National
Nuclear Regulator (NNR), who refused to make the contents known for the
past three months. Beeld, the hard-hitting Afrikaans-language newspaper,
had obtained excerpts from the report. Natural water sources unsafe
- Barthel and his co-authors came to the conclusion in
the report that the land in this area - where more than 400 000 people
live in Randfontein, Bekkersdal, Carletonville, Westonaria, Khutsong and
Welverdiend - was seriously polluted by overflow from sludge dams during
100 years of mining.
- People in towns in this area received their drinking
water piped in from Rand Water Company, but many tens of thousands of people
on the farms and in the squatter-camps along its banks rely wholly on water
from Wonderfontein Spruit.
- Sandy Carroll, who was recently appointed environmental
manager at Harmony Gold Mines, told Beeld newspaper that admittedly, 'the
mining groups were informed about the dangers indicated in the report.'[
She said Harmony 'was talking to NNR and they were together seeking solutions.
- The West Rand district municipality planned to erect
notices warning people along the Wonderfontein Spruit (which runs for 100km)
not to use the water. Carroll replied in an e-mail to Beeld's enquiries:
"Alternative water sources will be suggested."
- The report stressed that there was no natural water in
the whole area that was safe for use by humans, animals or plants.
- Mariette Lieffering, an environmental activist who established
the Public Environmental Arbiters (PEA), said said she had just written
to the Human Rights Commission of South Africa to step in. A cabbage that
was irrigated with water from the Wonderfontein Spruit catchment area and
which was analysed by Dr Francois Durand, zoology lecturer at the University
of Johannesburg, was found to contain 153 times more aluminium, 680 times
more iron, 590 times more manganese, 980 times more vanadium that was recommended
for human and also had too much zinc.
- Beeld report on radioactive poisoning:
- Harmony Gold Mines in SA:
- Russian poisoning: