Gencor ordered to clean up old asbestos mine
The Bareki Tribal Authority and the concerned residents of Heuningvlei in the North West province have demanded that Gencor and it’s subsidiary, Gefco, clean up an old mine and mill sites that they believe pose a serious health hazard.
One of the greatest concerns is the health of some 50 pupils who attend primary school in a building right on the old mill site.
Blue asbestos, one of the most toxic and carcinogenic forms of asbestos, was mined at Heuningvlei until 1979. Inhaling even a few strands of the asbestos is enough to cause mesothelioma, or cancer of the lungs, an extremely painful terminal illness.
Many Heuningvlei residents are already suffering from asbestos-related diseases and new cases are being diagnosed each week, said Spoor.
Steven Kotoloane of the Heuningvlei Asbestos Interest Group, said people in his community had grown up with asbestos and had come regard the high levels of death and disease caused by asbestos as a normal part of life in the Kalahari. The interest group has joined the Bareki Tribal Authority in demanding the clean-up.
According to the letter of demand sent to the chief executive officer of Gefco and Gencor’s directors, the mill site is heavily contaminated with loose asbestos fibres and the asbestos tailing dump is not adequately covered.
Although a concrete slab was cast over a part of the mill site containing asbestos fibre, the sides are not sealed and copious quantities of asbestos fibre have been released.
Gefco and Gencor have until today (Friday 6 September) to notify the Bareki Tribal Authority and the Heuningvlei Asbestos Interest Group of the steps they propose to take to remedy the situation. Failure to do so will result in the two organisations resorting to court action to force a clean-up.
South Africa has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world, as we were one of a handful of countries that extensively mined the most dangerous blue asbestos.
Mesothelioma became a notifiable and scheduled industrial disease in October 1979, the year Heuningvlei closed down.
Asbestos products are banned in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, Belgium and Saudi Arabia. (Kerry Cullinan, Health-e, 05-09-2002)