LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) – The collapse of Vale’s Brumadinho iron ore tailings dam in Brazil was both shocking and devastating in its impact. But it was not a one-off event.
It was the 11th serious tailings dam failure in the last decade and such catastrophic events are becoming more frequent, according to researchers at World Mine Tailings Failures (WMTF). Indeed, the number of incidents is going to rise further, according to the U.S. not-for-profit organisation that tracks all recorded tailings storage facility (TSF) failures.
“Without major changes to law and regulation, and to industry practices, and without new technology that substantially reduces risk and increases loss control, our current prediction is for 19 very serious failures between 2018 and 2027.”
A “very serious” failure is defined by how much waste material is released, how far it travels and how many fatalities result. It’s a terrible indictment of a global industry that is trying to shed its “dirty” image in response to consumer and investor pressure for “clean” materials.
So what are tailings dams, why are they failing with increasing frequency and what can the industry do about it? A tailings dam is the most common waste disposal solution for mining companies, whether they’re extracting iron ore, gold or copper.