11 NC as­bestos mines re­ha­bil­i­tated

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - NEWS - PATSY BEANGSTROM NEWS EDI­TOR

WHILE 11 as­bestos mines in the North­ern Cape have been re­ha­bil­i­tated since the launch of the as­bestos re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion project in 2008, there are still more than 230 across the coun­try that still need to be re­ha­bil­i­tated.

This is in re­sponse to a ques­tion asked by Thomas Zwe­lakhe Hadebe, DA spokesper­son for En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, to the Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources.

The es­ti­mated cost of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the out­stand­ing mines is more than R1.7 bil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­sponse from the Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources, a to­tal of 21 sites were re­ha­bil­i­tated since the in­cep­tion of his de­part­ment’s as­bestos re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion project in 2008. Of these, 11 were in the North­ern Cape.

A to­tal of R154 mil­lion has been spent to date on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

The mines in the Prov­ince that are listed as hav­ing been re­ha­bil­i­tated in­clude Strel­ley, Je­bolo, Prieska Old Hos­pi­tal, Prieska Park­land Cre­ation, He­un­ingvlei, Verge­noeg, Ga-Lo­tol, Lokaleng, Masa­neng, and Buisvlei South and North.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment, it is hoped that the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of as­bestos mines will be con­cluded by 2029.

Ac­cord­ing to As­bestos.com, South Africa re­ports ap­prox­i­mately 200 cases of the cancer, mesothe­lioma, per year.

Mesothe­lioma is a rare, ag­gres­sive form of cancer that de­vel­ops in the lin­ing of the lungs, ab­domen, or heart. Caused by as­bestos, mesothe­lioma has no known cure and has a very poor prog­no­sis.

“Nearly 30 per­cent of mesothe­lioma cases in South Africa are tied to en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­po­sure, most com­monly in the North­ern Cape,” the re­port states.

“More than 70 per­cent of re­ported en­vi­ron­men­tal cases af­fect women and chil­dren, who most likely were ex­posed when min­ers brought home the fi­bres on their hair and clothes.”

The cancer was linked to as­bestos ex­po­sure in 1960 by Christo­pher Wag­ner, a South African pathol­o­gist.

“Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis was a se­ri­ous en­demic dis­ease at the time, but doc­tors strug­gled to ex­plain why pa­tients liv­ing and work­ing west of Kim­ber­ley did not re­spond to treat­ment as well as those liv­ing else­where,” the re­port states.

An au­topsy per­formed at the time by Wag­ner, re­vealed no signs of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in his pa­tient, but in­stead a tu­mour in the pa­tient’s right chest and a col­lapsed lung. He gained fur­ther ev­i­dence for his study from Dr CA Sleggs, the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the time of Kim­ber­ley Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis Hos­pi­tal.

Af­ter col­lect­ing imag­ing scans from 14 pa­tients who lived near an as­bestos mine, Sleggs per­formed biop­sies and con­firmed the pres­ence of mesothe­lioma. Shortly af­ter, Wag­ner re­ported the link be­tween the ex­po­sure and mesothe­lioma.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, South Africans most at risk for de­vel­op­ing some form of mesothe­lioma are for­mer as­bestos min­ers.

“As min­ers ex­ca­vated mas­sive de­posits of the min­eral from the earth, they re­leased clouds of toxic dust into the air. Work­ers and other peo­ple who in­haled the con­tam­i­nated air sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased their risk of de­vel­op­ing mesothe­lioma, some­times 40 or 50 years later be­cause of the dis­ease’s lengthy la­tency pe­riod.”

Dur­ing the min­ing process, as­bestos would reg­u­larly go air­borne and spread to nearby towns. “When peo­ple in­haled the dust, they ex­pe­ri­enced what is known as en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­po­sure.

“One field study con­ducted from 1960 to 1962 in the North­ern Cape cities of Prieska, Ku­ru­man and Koe­gas con­firmed that peo­ple liv­ing in prox­im­ity to these mines and mills faced risks of con­tract­ing as­besto­sis, a non-can­cer­ous as­bestos-re­lated dis­ease.

“As­bestos has heav­ily con­tam­i­nated many parts of South Africa, most no­tably the North­ern Cape. Even with the last as­bestos mine closed, the North­ern Cape still strug­gles with ex­po­sure risks from the re­gion’s 82 re­main­ing as­bestos mine dumps.”

The as­bestos min­ing in­dus­try in South Africa reached its peak in 1977, when it em­ployed 20 000 min­ers and achieved an out­put of 380 000 tons. “Ex­ports be­gan to de­cline soon af­ter, as ev­i­dence of se­ri­ous health com­pli­ca­tions prompted coun­tries around the world to en­act re­stric­tive leg­is­la­tion on as­bestos use.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, be­tween 1910 and 2002 South Africa mined more than 10 mil­lion tons of as­bestos. The last of the na­tion’s as­bestos mines ceased pro­duc­tion in 2001 and closed down the fol­low­ing year. South Africa out­lawed all types of as­bestos by 2008, but the once-lu­cra­tive in­dus­try left the en­vi­ron­ment pol­luted.

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