NEWS RELEASE: Safety First: New Report Outlines Guidelines To End Mine Waste Disasters (Mining Watch – June 30, 2020)

(Ottawa/Washington, DC) Today an international group of 142 scientists, community groups, and NGOs from 24 countries published a set of 16 guidelines for the safer storage of mine waste. The guidelines aim to protect communities, workers and the environment from the risks posed by thousands of mine waste storage facilities, which are failing more frequently and with more severe outcomes.

“Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management” states that the ultimate goal of tailings management must be zero harm to people and the environment and zero tolerance for human fatalities. Last year’s tragic dam collapse in Brazil killed 270 people and destroyed the town of Brumadinho, and came on the heels of tailings dam failures at the Mount Polley mine in Canada and the Samarco mine in Brazil, among others.

There are 71 known cases of tailings failures since 2010 that have led to 482 deaths and damaged over 2,100 km of waterways. Across the world, communities in the shadow of large tailings dams live in a state of perpetual fear.

The guidelines come as the Global Tailings Review, co-convened by the international mining industry association, ICMM, investors, and the UN Environment Programme, prepares to unveil the first Global Tailings Standard “for the safer management of tailings storage facilities.”

Current industry standards, including the draft of the Global Tailings Standard released in 2019, do not adequately protect communities and ecosystems from failures. The trend in tailings dam tragedies are a consequence of allowing mining companies to sacrifice safety to cut costs, control auditors, and silence dissent among workers.

Additional report highlights:

Tailings storage facilities must be built and managed only with community consent, respecting human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopting the best available technologies and practices.
International safety protocols must be independent of company control, and must be established through multi-stakeholder processes that actively engage workers, communities and civil society.

Strong standards for tailings dams must ensure financial guarantees and accountability at the highest level of corporate governance. Public participation in decisions and reliable whistleblower and grievance mechanisms are necessary to ensure that communities and workers can raise the alarm without consequences.

To avoid the long-term liability of mine waste sites and their social and environmental impacts, overall demand for primary raw minerals must be reduced.

The group publishing the report includes frontline organizations in mining affected communities from Brazil, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, India and elsewhere as well as global groups such as Amnesty International Canada, Amazon Watch, Earthworks, IndustriALL Global Union Federation, MiningWatch Canada, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club.

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