An estimated R1.7 billion is needed to rehabilitate more than 230 asbestos mines across the country
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.