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Determining the safety of wastewater

WearCheck Water operates two ISO/IEC 17025:2017-accredited laboratories – one in Cape Town, the other in Johannesburg, and conducts water analysis for clients from all over Southern Africa. 

The mining industry is strictly regulated by national laws that govern the disposal of environmentally safe wastewater, and in many countries, is one of the prerequisites for the renewal of a mining licence. Additionally, increasingly stringent regulations compel mining companies to comply with acid mine drainage in line with the global trend towards earth-friendly business practices.

WearCheck Water, a division of condition monitoring specialist company, WearCheck, assists many mines in the Southern African region to comply with wastewater regulations. The company conducts scientific analysis of water samples, which reveals the chemical composition of the water to a precise degree.

Moses Lelaka, WearCheck Water’s technical water lab manager in Johannesburg, explains that the company tests water from any source. ‘We conduct analysis on water from many sources – ranging from drinking water to factory/industrial/mining effluent, and everything in between – to determine the presence and levels of potentially harmful substances, whether the water is used for drinking, agriculture or to be disposed of after an industrial process,’ he said.

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Lelaka outlines some of the mine licence regulations. ‘For example, in South Africa, wastewater regulations are regulated and monitored by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), which is mandated to ensure the transparent and efficient regulation of the South African mineral resources and minerals industry.

‘The DMR works hand in hand with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Water and Sanitation to ensure that the process of mineral regulation does not have any impact on the environment. In some cases, if the mineral is next to a river or stream, water samples are taken from upstream and downstream of the mine to ensure that the mining activities do not affect the water quality of the stream or the river.’

WearCheck Water operates two ISO/IEC 17025:2017-accredited laboratories – one in Cape Town, the other in Johannesburg, and conducts water analysis for clients from all over Southern Africa. Lelaka outlines the analysis process, ‘Water samples of around one litre are sent to our laboratories. Our technicians select the relevant tests for the water sample, depending on the needs of the customer. They identify what is wrong with the water and advise customers on possible consequences of using / discarding such water.

‘Water analysis is conducted using various accredited techniques, such as: photometric, electrometric, colorimetric, gravimetric, ICP-OES, ICP MS and enzyme substrates. These techniques obtain the best possible results in chemical and microbial analysis of effluent/wastewater, drinking water, processed water, surface water and groundwater.

‘In the case of the mining sector and other industrial operations needing to dispose of wastewater into a river system, the sea or even simply down the drain, there are strict by-laws that must be adhered to, outlining the “acceptable” levels of contaminants before disposal, to prevent possible fines or even prosecution. WearCheck Water’s technicians determine the exact levels of contaminants and advise on acceptable levels for safe discarding.

‘Many of our mining customers operate boreholes, using the water in the mining process. We regularly monitor the water quality from the boreholes to test whether contaminants from the mining process have leached into the water supply.

‘As an example – cyanide is commonly used in gold mining, the presence of this toxin must be constantly monitored. Furthermore, uranium is commonly found in the ore with gold, and as uranium is radioactive, it is important to monitor the levels and check whether it has leached into the water supply. This is even an issue on disused mines and mine dumps – many of our customers living near these come to us to test the quality of their drinking water. Chromium-6, a carcinogenic element, is a by-product from chrome mines, so it is important to know if humans will be ingesting water with high levels of this.

Wastewater quality testing solutions for mining projects:

‘In South Africa,’ says Lelaka, ‘the DMR provides the mines with the guidelines depending on what is being mined, and these are very specific – in other words, coal mining has different specifications from gold mines and diamond mines, and so on.

‘WearCheck Water is cognisant of the government wastewater regulations and requirements, and advises all mines to comply with their national laws and follow all stipulations regarding the quality of wastewater.

‘In South Africa, the National Water Act of 1998 ensures that nation’s water resources are protected, used, developed, managed and controlled in a way which takes into account promoting equitable access to clean water.’

The South African National Water Act of 1998, Government Gazette 4 June 1999 can be viewed via this link: https://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/GN-704-Regulations-on-Mining-Water.pdf#:~:text=No.%20704%204%20June%201999%20NATIONAL%20WATER%20ACT%2C,ACTIVITIES%20AIMED%20AT%20THE%20PROTECTION%20OF%20WATER%20RESOURCES

Outlining the additional benefits of scientific water analysis, Lelaka, indicates that health is a primary reason for many customers testing for drinking water safety, both private and in the restaurant trade. Additionally, water quality is critical in the medical sector, for example in dialysis machines, as well as in the agricultural field – irrigation water quality is a critical aspect of greenhouse crop production. Water with high alkalinity can affect nutrient uptake by the plants and cause nutrient deficiency, which compromises crop health.

WearCheck’s extensive range of condition monitoring services also includes the scientific analysis of used oil and other fluids, asset reliability care (ARC), transformer oil testing, lubricant-enabled reliability (LER) services and advanced field services (AFS), (rope testing, technical compliance and non-destructive testing), amongst others.

‘Ongoing water condition monitoring is an invaluable tool that signals environmental changes in the water table that can quickly occur due to seasonal changes, rainfall, drought, heavy industry, agriculture, natural disasters, and so much more. Responsible monitoring gives an indication of any changes in water quality that may cause harm to life or the environment.’

WearCheck Water offers water analysis services in every region in Africa where the company has a presence (RSA, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Namibia, Mozambique, and the DRC). These locations are predominantly based near areas where mining is the primary economic activity.

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