Gautrain’s big stink

Gautrain tunnelling waste could pollute a river that runs through four Southern African countries if it is not dealt with properly, warns environmental wetland expert Paul Fairall.

Already, the section of the Sandspruit river running through Johannesburg’s Killarney golf course has been polluted by some of the 2 000 tons of sludge produced by tunnelling undertaken for the Gautrain.

Fairall, who has been called in by the golf course as a consultant on the pollution said: “This is a tragedy, because the Sandspruit is part of a 2 000km river which hundreds of people use for drinking, washing and cleaning. Pollution from one area can travel for 2 000km.” The Sandspruit is part of the Jukskei River, which joins the Crocodile and the Limpopo rivers — the immediate source of water for thousands of rural people.

In June a major road in the same area of Johannesburg collapsed because of tunnelling for Gautrain.

Bombela Joint Civil Ventures, the company overseeing the Gautrain project, said that it was sensitive to the pollution problem. “We are responsible for the environment impacted on during construction activity, and in terms of this, water treatment plants have been implemented on the project,” said Bombela media liaison officer Chantal Ramcharan.

“In this instance we experienced a problem with our water treatment process at Shaft E2, Houghton Drive. This was investigated and now rectified. We are also going to contact the Killarney Golf Club to discuss our proposed corrective measures.”

A Johannesburg council committee responsible for environmental monitoring and compliance during the Gautrain construction is collecting water samples from 120 sampling points in the city.

Said council spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane: “Environmental pollution incidents in projects of this nature are to be expected and there are protocols which govern waste-water treatment governed by the department of water affairs and forestry which Bombela has to comply with.”

Modingoane said that sampling points within the Sandspruit catchment area indicate that the chemical water quality is “generally acceptable”.

According to Fairall, however, pollution has already devastated the Sandspruit catchment. The wetland in Killarney has been enveloped by toxic sludge and “birdlife and plants living on the golf course are dead because of this”.

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