The recent collapse of a mine tailings dam in southeastern Brazil has already resulted in 134 fatalities, leaving an estimated 300 people still missing, according to rescue workers.
The spill flooded nearby homes, submerging cars and buses under a river of reddish-brown sludge. This environmental disaster should raise red flags for Michigan regulators and the communities downstream from Aquila Resources’ proposed open-pit metallic sulfide mine and tailings dam next to the Menominee River on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.
On Jan. 25, a 40-year-old, 280-foot high tailings dam failed in Brumadinho, Brazil, releasing almost 12 million cubic meters of mine waste.
The dam is owned by the mining giant Vale, the same company responsible for a tailings dam failure three years earlier in Mariana that buried three communities, killed 19 people, leaving hundreds homeless and contaminating hundreds of miles of river valleys with toxic sludge. It was one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazil’s history.
Tailings dams are some of the largest human-made structures on earth. Tailings are the waste material left over from the crushing, grinding and chemical (including cyanide) processing of mineral ores.