Cyanide polluter to be charged

20 February 2012 - 02:36 By CANAAN MDLETSHE

The Department of Water Affairs will institute legal action against the company responsible for a cyanide spill in the Ngagane River, near Newcastle, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

"The department is awaiting results from the samples taken while further sampling is taking place at various points. The department [warns] companies that break the law and endanger lives that tough action will be taken against them," department spokesman Linda Page said.

The spillage of high concentrations of cyanide polluted a tributary of the Ngagane, the department said.

Locals were baffled on Thursday when 13 cows died after drinking water from the river. A departmental team collected water samples and frantic Newcastle and Dundee locals rushed to buy bottled water.

"During the site inspection by Department of Water Affairs officials, chlorine powder was discovered around the sampling point, which is believed to have been used to try to drop the high concentration of cyanide in the stream," Page said.

"The department is working closely with uThukela Water, which provided drinking water to Amajuba District municipality, in Newcastle.

"The drinking water has not been affected."

Local authorities have warned communities not to drink from the river and to keep animals away until the cyanide is flushed out, but they emphasised that Newcastle and Dundee tap water was not contaminated.

"We need to note that the stream into which [the contaminated effluent was discharged joins the Ngagane River downstream of our abstraction point. This means that both the water from the dam and the water abstracted from the Ngagane River are not contaminated," said uThekela Water spokesman Dumisani Thabethe.

Thabethe said the third water abstraction point for the Ngagane Water Treatment Works is on the Buffalo River, upstream of the confluence of the Ngagane and Buffalo rivers.

"This water source is therefore also not contaminated. The only people within the Newcastle area and downstream who need to worry are those who use water from the river.

"Also, the raw water pump station pumping water from the Buffalo River to the Utrecht Water Treatment Works is no longer in use. Utrecht is, therefore, also not affected."

Water was being tested at various points on the river.

"Analyses indicate that the cyanide has been diluted to safe levels. But we will continue to monitor.

"It will take at least five days from the time of the spill for water to reach the Dundee abstraction point and at least seven days to reach the Nquthu abstraction point," he said.