Research conducted by North West University research professor Frank Winde in conjunction with scientists from Germany found high levels of uranium exposure in Johannesburg residents, according to a report in the Sunday Times.
Hair samples collected from Johannesburg residents found that exposure to dangerous chemicals and substances was a major problem in certain areas, and could be attributed to mine tailings dams, which store by-products of mining operations.
Winde found that levels of uranium in Johannesburg residents were similar to those found in European uranium miners, creating grave concern over the health impact of the mining industry on city-dwellers.
Samples were collected from barbers in the West Rand and the south of Johannesburg, with the results indicating that the toxicity was widespread, affecting areas with a high concentration of gold mines as well as suburbs far away from mining operations.
SA Medical Research Council environment and health unit director Angela Mathee has also published a study detailing the contamination of garden soil in Johannesburg with arsenic, and advised that buffer zones of up to 5km should be enforced around mines to reduce the toxic effect of tailing dams.
Mining problems and pollution
Johannesburg’s mining industry poses numerous risks to the populace, especially when considering the potential effects of illegal mining operations.
An investigation published at the end of 2018 found that the city was on the brink of disaster due to the efforts of illegal miners.
Transnet and Sasol warned of the potential looming disaster as illegal miners were using explosives to blast rock underground, coming “within metres” of gas and fuel lines.
City of Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba warned that the threat of illegal mining could have deadly consequences for Johannesburg residents.
He added that of “significance is the Nasrec precinct where the pipelines intersects with Sasol gas lines”.
“Investigations have revealed that if illegal mining activity continues within these old mining shafts, the entire FNB Nasrec precinct, including the iconic FNB stadium, could go down in ruins as a result of unstable earth directly underneath the area,” said Mashaba.
Another major environmental threat to residents in specific parts of the country is the widespread damage cause by air pollution as a result of coal power plants.
A recent report showed that Eskom’s coal power plants had severe health effects on nearby communities, resulting in abnormally high levels of asthma and respiratory illnesses in addition to many other negative health effects.
A study conducted last year estimated that more than 2,000 South Africans die prematurely from power plant pollution.