Brazil dam collapse reignites debate over storing mining waste – by James Regan and Susan Taylor (Reuters U.S. – November 18, 2015)

SYDNEY/TORONTO, Nov 19 A deadly mud slide at an iron ore mine in Brazil has reignited calls for safer ways to dispose of millions of tonnes of ore waste held back by man-made dams.

The disaster at the Samarco iron ore mine is only the latest in a series involving tailings – waste in mining parlance – that have devastated the environment, and in the case of Samarco, killed at least 11 people and left another 12 missing.

Tailings are typically a mud-like material and their storage and handling has become a major safety and environmental issue, since they can be toxic and may need to be kept isolated.

The Nov. 5 disaster has been termed an “environmental catastrophe” by Brazil after sending waste across two states and liability could fall on Samarco’s joint owners Vale and BHP Billiton .

BHP Billiton’s chief executive said the miner was reviewing all of its dam facilities and that the companies involved in Samarco would set up an inquiry with submissions from a wide range of experts, including on the history of tailing dams.

“That is why we will be entirely open with the findings of this report to hope that regulators and companies around the world benefit from that learning, so that something like this never happens again,” Andrew Mackenzie told an analysts call.

In Brazil, at least, the industry could face tougher rules after a congressman said a proposal for a new mining code would include stricter regulations for tailings dams and could make dry processing obligatory.

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