A multidisciplinary approach for the assessment of rehabilitation at asbestos mines in South Africa
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The asbestos mining industry has left a legacy of pollution that continues to poison former mining areas and surrounding land – posing a significant health risk to local communities. The rehabilitation of sites disturbed by mining activities, aims to negate the adverse effects associated with these post-mining landscapes and to achieve the return of a disturbed site to a degree of its former state or to a sustainable usable condition. In order to assist the effective rehabilitation of derelict and ownerless asbestos mines it was critical to develop a scientific database to indicate the status of rehabilitation at specific sites. The Rehabilitation Prioritisation Index (RPI) was developed in 2007 to indicate the sequence for rehabilitation of asbestos pollution by quantifying the risk associated with a specific pollution site. The use of the RPI has been implemented by the South African Department of Minerals and Energy as part of an integrated approach towards the rehabilitation of the asbestos legacies of the past. In this study, a multidisciplinary approach was applied to sites in three provinces as identified in the RPI, to facilitate the development of the Rehabilitation Monitoring Index (RMI). It is envisioned that this index, as part of a larger monitoring database, would assist in the successful monitoring and long-term rehabilitation of asbestos mines. During the monitoring process, the most prominent aspects governing the rehabilitation process were identified from comprehensive assessments of quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative parameters included cover depth, physical and chemical soil properties, soil microbial activity, vegetation properties and small mammal surveys. Qualitative data included the footprint area, land use, erosion or flood damage, secondary pollution and water control structure damage. From the quantitative data, those parameters which had the greatest influence on the rehabilitation process were identified. In order of most to least important these groups were analysed by multivariate statistical ordination and classified into four groups: success parameters > essentials to be addressed > reasons for failure > non-distinguishable entities. The qualitative data indicated that the Limpopo Province was in the highest state of degradation after rehabilitation and that site history plays an important role in rehabilitation planning. Quantitative and qualitative parameters were assessed for all sites and applied in the RMI as weighted factors from which the rehabilitation status of a specific site can be calculated. Qualitative data was given a weight of 25% and quantitative data a weight of 75%. RMI values were calculated for each parameter and sites were distributed across a range which classifies the sites according to their rehabilitation status. Once again the Limpopo Province was identified as the province with the least successful rehabilitation. The results from this investigation show that a multidisciplinary approach is a step in the right direction for the successful monitoring of rehabilitated post-mining sites such as asbestos mines. It is however necessary that the RMI must be validated and the weights allocated to qualitative parameters must be reconsidered for the future development of this tool. While the RPI and RMI cannot be compared directly, it might be of great revelation to reassess the RPI values of all the sites after rehabilitation and compare this data to the RMI values.