The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has deployed a team of environmental management inspectors to assist in an investigation into a slurry dam burst in KwaZulu-Natal on December 24, which resulted in tailings material flowing into nearby rivers and onto nearby land.
Anthracite producer the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) last week confirmed the incident.
At the time, ZAC environmental superintendent Msawenkosi Buthelezi said that, at about 14:00 on December 24, an end wall of Slurry Pond 3 failed, resulting in a spill of 1 500 m3 of coal slurry.
"The spill was caused by the failure of the slurry pond end wall. This slurry pond end wall was newly installed, following the loading out of the dry slurry during November. A further aggravating factor in the end wall failure was the heavy rainfall four days prior to the failure," he explained at the time.
Buthelezi added that, immediately after the spill, all pumping to the slurry ponds was stopped.
"The end wall of the slurry pond was rebuilt and is awaiting a professional engineer certification before the pond is brought back into service. The integrity of the other slurry ponds containment walls will also be checked by a professional engineer and, where necessary, improvements will be made.
"In the medium term, a filter press will be installed in the coal washing plant, to remove the slurry from the water, and therefore minimise the likelihood of slurry spilling in future. This action is planned for completion by the end of March 2022. One such plant was installed in 2020, and as a result of the successful operation thereof, another will be put into place," he noted at the time.
“DFFE officials are in the affected reserves today to view the extent of the damage caused, as well as to evaluate the measures which have been implemented to mitigate the risks. They will also form part of the joint inspections by the multi-departmental joint operations committee, scheduled to take place in the week of January 17,” Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said in a release issued by the DFFE on January 14.
“On request from KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Ravi Pillay for technical support, we have decided to deploy a team of environmental management inspectors from the DFFE to KwaZulu-Natal.
“The team will support the ongoing efforts to address the impacts of the spill that is affecting rural communities and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi reserve as well as posing a risk to the iSimangiliso Wetland Park,” she said.
Pillay informed Creecy about the matter and requested officials from the DFFE to join the joint operations committee established to deal with this situation.
The DFFE team will provide on-the-ground support and assistance to the joint operations committee, which is made up of government roleplayers, including the departments of Mineral Resources and Energy and Water and Sanitation, the KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The joint operations committee was set up to investigate the incident and oversee the steps that are being taken to mitigate the impacts of the spill.