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Improving water quality

Water pollution is a serious global threat to the environment and the future of our planet. In South Africa, the quality of fresh water is being affected by increased pollution caused by a number of factors including urbanisation, deforestation, the destruction of wetlands, agriculture, industry and mining.

Acid mine drainage is on the rise, leading to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems and damaging the quality of water used by communities in poor and rural areas.

“The mapping of the potential pollution risk associated with mining sites enables us to predict the impact on the quality of the water sources and the quantity of usable water available to communities living close to mining sites,” says Professor Elvis Fosso-Kankeu, associate professor at the School of Chemical and Mineral Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering at North-West University.

Concerned by the challenges faced by people in South Africa and across the rest of the continent, Fosso-Kankeu has dedicated his research to the monitoring of water quality and remediation of water pollution to improve the lives of people in a continent where access to potable water remains a challenge for many.

He has focused his research on predicting the dispersion of inorganic and organic pollutants from industrial areas into surface water sources, the monitoring of surface water quality, and the development of sustainable treatment methods for removing the pollutants or converting them into harmless products. His work has contributed enormously to the field of water quality in the country.

“I am particularly interested in working with communities affected by extreme water scarcity and pollution, and in developing innovative technology to help the power industry minimise its footprint by ensuring a zero liquid effluent discharge,” says Professor Fosso-Kankeu. “This is why I have combined community- and industry-focused projects.”

“My work on the prediction of the pollutants in water sources, as well as the monitoring of surface water, has been expended to the water-scarce Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, where I am also assessing the potential impact of mining activities or abandoned mine wastes on the contamination of underground water — the only source of water apart from the Orange River, which is far from the community. I will continue to work with mining industry to improve water use and reduce water demand so that we can increase the amount of potable water available for poor and rural neighbouring communities.”

He and his team have been extensively involved in several other community-based projects, and their findings have contributed to improved living conditions. The community of O’Kiep in Namaqualand, for example, is now aware of the poor quality of water in an open pit and no longer uses it for swimming or washing.

Access to potable water is a human right, he says. “Our findings have stimulated proper management of waste by mining industries and are contributing to the reduction of pollution of water sources. Municipalities are also spending less on the treatment of water in these areas. The surrounding communities benefit from having access to water suitable for irrigation of their farms and for domestic use. In addition, information generated by the project is being used by concerned mining companies to prevent dispersion of heavy metals in the water sources, as they want to avoid penalties related to environmental liabilities.”

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