Mining tailing standards 'failing to protect communities'

Mining industry standards often lack mandatory technical guidelines according to Earthworks safety report into tailings management

Current mining industry standards do not go far enough to adequately protect communities and ecosystems from the consequences of tailings failures, according to a new Earthworks report.

The 2019 mine tailings dam collapse near Brumadinho, Brazil, killed over 250 people and decimated houses and buildings for kilometres before flowing into the Paraopeba River.

It followed massive tailings dam collapses in 2014, at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold-copper mine in British Columbia, Canada, and in 2015 at the Samarco iron mine in Mariana, Brazil, a joint venture owned by Vale and BHP Billiton.

Yet still the mining industry is failing to respond with robust safety measures.

    Industry standards often lack mandatory technical guidelines to move away from technologies and practices that present the greatest risk, as in other high-risk industries, such as aviation and long-distance pipelines, the report adds.

    "Significant changes must be made to current practices in design, construction, operation, and closure of tailings facilities," it states.

    "As climate change exacerbates the risk and consequences of failures, this has only become more urgent. The following document outlines guidelines for safety, respect for affected communities, and corporate accountability that must be incorporated into any tailings standard or regulations."

    Over the past 40 years, ore grades have declined on average by half for many minerals, effectively doubling the volume of mine waste tailings generated for each unit of mineral produced.
    Current trends suggest an additional two-to-10-fold increase in the extraction and uses of most minerals by 2060.

    "These trends are not sustainable," it concludes. "We need to continue to mine at least some minerals, including to support energy transition technologies, but we need best standards and practices to do so."

    To read the report's top 10 guidelines for responsible mining tailings management, click here

    • Equinox Gold Corp has received approval for the tailings storage facility (TSF) raise at its RDM Mine in Brazil. The TSF raise contractor is mobilising equipment to begin the raise in early June. Equinox Gold expects that full operations will resume by mid-July and will update RDM guidance with its Q2 2022 disclosures in the first week of August.

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