Bamboo may be suitable as potential cover to remediate asbestos- related mine waste in semiarid regions of South Africa, states South African State-owned mineral and metallurgical innovation company Mintek mineral economics and strategic unit manager Godfrey Mothapo.
He was speaking at the Fossil Fuel Foundation’s workshop on mine land rehabilitation and phytoremediation, in Johannesburg, earlier this month.
South Africa was once one of the largest producers of asbestos globally, with mines located throughout the country. However, the country enacted legislation in 2008 banning the use of asbestos in all sectors, which came after the last asbestos mine was closed in 2001. The new legislation resulted in over 600 asbestos mines being closed and many being abandoned, with little or no rehabilitation undertaken on them and the potential to pose a life-threatening health hazard in the form of mesothelioma and asbestosis to those that come in contact with the source.
Mintek and the Council for Geoscience, under the auspices of the Department of Mineral Resources, are responsible for rehabilitating mine dumps and sealing shafts of old asbestos mines. Since 2010, Mintek has rehabilitated about 500 ha of former asbestos mine land.
“We understand that the main objective of any rehabilitation initiative is to re-establish vegetation in the area. “However, Mintek has found this difficult to achieve on asbestos sites, owing to the poor quality of soil and unfavourable climate conditions in these areas,” Mothapo mentioned.
Therefore, Mintek only uses rock cladding at asbestos sites; however, the institution recognises that this is not ideal as, when post-monitoring of these sites is conducted, asbestos dust particulates are often still detected, which poses serious health concerns for local communities.
Mintek is of the view that certain types of bamboo, namely bambusa balcooa, dendrocalamus asper and phyllostachys edulis, could be most suitable for purposes of asbestos site rehabilitation, as they may be amenable to the conditions present in these areas.