MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Zimbabwe: Scientific Report shows Water Pollution by Marange Diamond Companies

Published by MAC on 2012-08-06
Source: Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)

A study by Zimbabwe's Environmental Law Association (ZELA) indicates that diamond mining operations in the Marange area have created massive siltation, and chemical and heavy metal pollution, of nearby rivers.

The report can be downloaded as a pdf here (2.1Mbs)

For earlier coverage of mining at Marange, see: Zimbabwe: Chinese cream off US$200 million

Statement from Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)

30 July 2012

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) recently commissioned a scientific assessment of the water quality in Save and Odzi Rivers in Manicaland Province that are allegedly being polluted by Marange based diamond mining companies. The study was carried out by a biological and chemical science institution on behalf of ZELA from the 5th -13th of July 2012.

The study was commissioned after ZELA received widespread reports that water quality had deteriorated to the extent that most ecosystem services and livelihoods had been greatly affected.

Currently, four diamond mining companies are operating in Marange namely; Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC), Anjin, Marange Resources and Mbada. The study assessed the physical, chemical and biological state of the water in Save and Odzi Rivers. Samples were taken from ten sites and these were marked with GPS coordinates for location reference; thus from upstream and downstream of diamond mining companies.

In summary, the results indicate that diamond mining operations have resulted in massive siltation, chemical and heavy metal pollution of Save and Odzi Rivers. Turbidity and total solids exceeded the W.H.O and Zimbabwe standards. The water in Save and Odzi has turned into a red ochre colour, thereby affecting the health of the river system (See pictures).

When in contact with the skin, the water and mud cause an itching sensation. The report indicate that levels of heavy metals showed high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water. These elements are the major constituents of ferro-silicon (FESI, a chemical compound used in diamond extraction processes. Chromium and nickel are potentially carcinogenic agents (cancer causing agents) and therefore they pose an immediate health risk to people and livestock.

The high levels of iron in water suggest that the local populations could be at risk of iron poisoning, as they exceeded stipulated W.H.O. standards. Similarly, pH was in the high alkaline range as well as Chemical Oxygen Demand (C.O.D).

These parameters were indicative of some chemical pollution in the rivers. The pH that is alkaline (hard water) is corrosive and can cause damage to equipment and clothes. High levels of fluoride in the water pose the risk of diseases such as dental and skeletal flourosis. Dental flourosis relates to the poor development of teeth, while skeletal flourosis is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride.

The pollution of the two rivers has adversely affected the sources of livelihoods for communities that live along the river in four Districts namely Chipinge, Chimanimani, Buhera and Mutare West (Marange communal lands). The pollution has deprived communities of clean and unpolluted water for drinking, gardening, fishing, livestock watering, bathing and other primary uses.

The results of this study clearly show the environmental and potential health risks to people and their livelihoods as a result of poor mining practices in the Marange diamond region.

The report recommends that necessary infrastructure to process ALL waste water and effluent from the mines should be put in place. In addition, the Marange based mining companies must facilitate a clean up campaign and drill boreholes for local communities living along the two rivers.

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