Uranium pollution in South Africa: past research and future needs
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Extracting gold for over a century from the Witwatersrand basin in South Africa as the largest known deposit on Earth, inadvertently also brought large amounts of radioactive and chemotoxic uranium (U) into densely populated environments. With well over 6000 million t of tailings, the Witwatersrand goldfields contain more uraniferous mine waste than all other U-producing countries worldwide combined, exposing millions of mainly impoverished residents to contaminated air, water, soil and food. Yet, to date, no systematic effort has been made to quantify reliably the extent of the problem and assess associated health risks for the entire region. Acknowledging that any concerted strategy for addressing the U legacy requires a scientific base, this paper briefly describes how research on U pollution in South Africa developed, which topics were covered and some of the gaps. Based on this, a radio-ecological approach is proposed to be followed for systematically addressing the problem and arriving at a sound scientific understanding of where U originates, how it migrates through the environment and what the associated health risks are.
- Faculty of Humanities