World Cup's Soccer City Shows Scale of Mining Waste in South Africa

soccer cirty mining waste image

Image credit NASA via Our Amazing Planet

All eyes were on Soccer City yesterday as the World Cup played out. However, few eyes were seeing it from above, which is the perspective that reveals the neighboring mountains of waste from gold mines. While Soccer City (circled on the image above) can hold 97,400 people -- a sizable stadium by any standards -- it is minuscule compared to the three slag piles shown in the NASA satellite image above. Those big brown patches to the left of the stadium are massive mounds of left-over crushed rock from gold mining. The companies that make up the gold mining industry in South Africa are going for deposits as tiny as 0.015 ounces of gold per ton of excavated rock. This desperate reach for microscopic flecks of gold spells environmental disaster. Our Amazing Planet brings our attention to the image of the slag piles, or mounds of crushed rock. It points out that such destructive efforts yield so little product that "a single wedding band, at this rate, would need 20 tons of gold-flecked rock."

While South Africa is a leader in gold mining, it comes at a frightening cost. It takes roughly 3.3 tons of ore, 5,440 litres of water, 572 kilowatt hours of electricity, 12 cubic meters of compressed air, along with dynamite and chemicals to produce a since fine ounce of gold.

Cyanide is used to extract the gold from the ore, and slip-ups in its use have killed wildlife, contaminated drinking water supplies, and wiped out nearly all wildlife in stretches of river. Beyond that, there is the issue of altering the landscape beyond recognition or repair.

NASA writes, "Although vegetation appears in this image, it is relatively scarce, and much of the ground appears in shades of beige and brown, either sparsely vegetated land, or earth upturned to prepare for construction. One exception is the green golf course immediately east of Soccer City."

If Soccer City can hold over 97,000 people, imagine how many humans could stand on one of those slag piles.

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