Archive | Mining Environmental Accidents, Pollution, Tailing Dams and Abandoned Mines

Deforestation, erosion exacerbate mercury spikes near Peruvian gold mining (Duke University – December 12, 2019)

Scientists from Duke University have developed a model that can predict the amount of mercury being released into a local ecosystem by deforestation and small-scale gold mining.

The research, which appears online on December 11 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, could point toward ways to mitigate the worst effects of mercury poisoning in regions such as those that are already experiencing elevated mercury levels caused by gold mining.

“We’ve taken a lot of ground measurements in the Peruvian Amazon of mercury levels in the water, soil and fish,” said Heileen Hsu-Kim, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University. “But many areas in the Amazon aren’t easily accessible, and the government often does not have the resources needed to test local sites.” Continue Reading →

Vale report blames water level for Brazil mining waste dam disaster – by Christian Plumb and Luciano Costa (Reuters U.K. – December 12, 2019)

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – The deadly collapse of a Vale SA’s mining waste dam in Brazil was partially triggered by “a persistently high water level” that caused the structure to lose strength and stability, according to a report by a panel of experts appointed by the company’s lawyers.

The report, released by Vale on Thursday, said there was no warning the dam was unstable, and no seismic activity or explosions in the area were recorded before it burst in late January. The dam collapse unleashed an avalanche of mining waste on the Brazilian town of Brumadinho, killing at least 155 people.

The report examined technical factors leading to the disaster rather than issues of liability. It came less than four years after another dam collapse at a joint venture between Vale and BHP Group in the same region, an accident that experts also blamed on water weakening the solid materials composing the dam so that they behave more like a liquid – a phenomenon known as liquefaction. Continue Reading →

New mining waste dam rules should not be retroactive, says review chief (Reuters U.S. – December 6, 2019)

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – New global standards for mining waste dams should take into account the difficulties of making existing dams compliant, the chair of an independent panel of experts crafting the new rules said on Friday.

Industry groups object to a standard that would apply not only to the design of new dams, but also require existing dams to be modified – a retro-fitting process they claim may be technically impossible, and at the very least expensive and time-consuming.

The world’s largest mining trade group – the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) – voiced concerns last month about the draft standards, especially how the rules could apply equally to new and existing facilities. Continue Reading →

Ecuador to tighten rules for mining waste dams to avoid repeat of Brazil disaster – by Alexandra Valencia (Reuters U.S. – November 26, 2019)

QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s government plans to tighten rules regulating the construction and operation of mining waste dams to avoid disasters like one in Brazil in January when a dam owned by Vale SA collapsed, killing hundreds.

Vice Minister of Mining Fernando Benalcazar told Reuters the new rules will take effect in December and will prohibit the building of so-called tailings dams close to populated areas and ban certain designs that are considered less stable.

Public trust in the mining industry has plunged since the disaster in Brazil, spurring calls to bolster safety at tailings dams, which are used to store the muddy detritus of the mining process and can be dozens of meters high. Continue Reading →

Vale returns looking for low-cost debt after Brumadinho tragedy – by Aaron Weinman (Reuters U.S. – November 21, 2019)

NEW YORK, Nov 21 (LPC) – The insatiable appetite to lend to Latin America’s blue-chip corporations may allow Brazilian miner Vale SA to return to the loan market and borrow US$3bn to refinance debt at ultra-low rates, only 10 months after a dam disaster that left the country reeling.

In January, following the collapse of a tailings dam at an iron ore mine in the Brumadinho region, Vale pulled back on original plans to refinance debt. Ten months and a public relations debacle later, a surfeit of lenders, including relationship banks with established ties to the miner and new lenders looking to forge a bond with one of Latin America’s most frequent borrowers, are expected to flock to the transaction.

A dearth of opportunities to lend to high-quality Latin American corporations has left banks with little option but to aggressively compete for business, giving borrowers cheap access to capital, and clout to dictate lending terms that allow for cost savings and flexibility. Continue Reading →

Appalachia’s Strip-Mined Mountains Face a Growing Climate Risk: Flooding – by James Bruggers (Inside Climate News – November 21, 2019)

VARNEY, West Virginia — Pigeon Creek flows through a narrow mountain hollow along a string of coal mining communities, its water trickling under the reds and yellows of the changing fall foliage.

The tranquil scene belies the devastation the creek delivered one night a decade ago as heavy rain fell on soggy soil and thousands of acres of nearby strip mines. Witnesses spoke of awakening in the dark of May 9, 2009, to the sound of rushing water like they had never heard before, entering their homes from underneath their doors.

“It was coming down out of the mountains bringing rock, trees, water and mud,” recalled Mildred Elkins, who became the lead plaintiff in a successful lawsuit with dozens of her flooded neighbors against several defendants, including Alpha Natural Resources, a coal mining company which has since gone through bankruptcy and merged with Contura Energy. Continue Reading →

Mining turned Indonesian seas red. The drive for greener cars could herald a new toxic tide. – by Ian Morse (Washington Post – November 20, 2019)

POMALAA, Indonesia — Where forested hills dip into the sea, Sahman Ukas scoops up rusty-red topsoil. His hands hold nickel that is more concentrated than many of the world’s richest deposits.

It’s no wonder, then, that on Sahman’s island of Sulawesi, companies have opened several mines in the past 15 years to feed the global market for stainless steel — made ductile and tough with nickel.

Now, a growing appetite for electric vehicles is creating new demand for nickel, whose chemical derivatives are increasingly used in cathodes of lithium-ion batteries. But the push for clean energy is coming at an environmental cost to forests and fisheries in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. Continue Reading →

Proposed standards for mining waste dams draw concerns from industry trade group – by Ernest Scheyder (Reuters U.S. – November 18, 2019)

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – The world’s largest mining trade group said on Monday it has concerns with global standards for mining waste dams being crafted by an independent panel of academics and engineers, especially how the new rules will apply equally to new and existing facilities.

The public lobbying of an ostensibly neutral process is likely to rankle environmentalists, indigenous groups and others who have long demanded miners do more to bolster safety at tailings dams, which are used to store the muddy detritus of the mining process and can be dozens of meters high.

Public trust in the industry has plunged since a Brazil tailings dam owned by Vale SA collapsed last January, killing hundreds. Continue Reading →

Artisanal gold mining polluting Peruvian biodiversity hotspot -study – by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud ( – November 17, 2019)

Researchers at Dartmouth College analyzed satellite data and discovered that artisanal mining is altering the water clarity and dynamics of the Madre de Dios River watershed in the Peruvian Amazon.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers explained that higher levels of suspended sediment were found in rivers near the mining sites. The sediments contain mercury and other contaminants.

According to the Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation, Canada’s NGO Artisanal Gold Council has registered that some 181 tonnes of mercury are released into the environment every year in the Madre de Dios region. Continue Reading →

Public consultation launched on global tailings dam standards – by Barbara Lewis (Reuters U.S. – November 15, 2019)

LONDON (Reuters) – A six-week public consultation launched on Friday will help set global standards to improve mining safety, aiming to prevent any repeat of the Vale tailings dam disaster in Brazil that killed 300 people in January.

Tailings dams are the most common waste disposal methods for mining companies, whether they’re extracting iron ore, gold or copper. They can tower dozens of meters high and stretch for several kilometers.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) said in March it was working on new safety standards with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and ethical investors’ body the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) following the collapse of Vale’s dam at Brumadinho. Continue Reading →

‘Mailbox 200’: Soviet waste dump a landslide away from poisoning millions – by Mariya Gordeyeva (Reuters U.S. – November 5, 2019)

MAILUU-SUU, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) – Hidden in a remote Central Asian gorge, thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste are one landslide away from contaminating the water supply for the whole Ferghana valley, home to millions of people, environmentalists say.

Neglected for decades by the Soviet Union and then Kyrgyzstan, uranium ore dumps near the town of Mailuu-Suu must be urgently reinforced to prevent disaster, according to the European Commission and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which are raising funds for the project.

“There are 14 million people in the Ferghana valley and in the event of a natural disaster water may wash away the tailings into the Naryn (Syr Darya) river which will be a tragedy for the whole valley,” says Bolotbek Karimov, an environment researcher based in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. Continue Reading →

Brazil regulator says Vale ‘negligence’ may have cost lives – by Jake Spring and Christian Plumb (Reuters U.S. – November 5, 2019)

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s mining regulator on Tuesday blasted iron ore miner Vale SA for failing to disclose problems with a mining dam before a deadly collapse in January, saying this kept the agency from taking actions that could have saved lives.

The dam in Brumadinho collapsed and flooded a nearby company cafeteria and the surrounding countryside with mining waste, killing more than 250 people. It was Vale’s second deadly dam collapse in less than four years.

The regulator’s report on its probe into the disaster is the latest blow to the reputation of Vale, which is under criminal investigation over accusations that top executives ignored warning signs about the dam. Continue Reading →

Investors fear looming safety risks of mining waste dams – by Barbara Lewis (Reuters U.S. – October 31, 2019)

LONDON (Reuters) – A global inquiry into how mining companies store billions of tonnes of waste in huge dams, launched after a collapse in Brazil killed hundreds, shows about a tenth of the structures have had stability issues, investors said on Thursday.

The research was led by the Church of England (CoE) and fund managers after the collapse of a Vale (VALE3.SA) dam in January unleashed an avalanche of mining waste on the Brazilian town of Brumadinho, killing an estimated 300 people.

A waste, or tailings dam, is the most common waste disposal method for mining companies, whether they’re extracting iron ore, gold or copper. They are among the largest man-made structures on earth, with some towering dozens of meters high and stretching for several kilometers. Continue Reading →

Chinese-owned nickel plant in PNG shut down after toxic slurry spill – by Bethanie Harriman (Australian Broadcasting Corporation – October 24, 2019)

Papua New Guinean authorities have shut down a Chinese-owned nickel processing plant for breaching safety and mining laws, after the operator spilled tens of thousands of litres of toxic slurry into a bay in August.

PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) chose to take punitive action against the Ramu Nico plant, which is majority owned by the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), after it failed to fix problems the authority identified while investigating the spill.

These included incompetency among operators at the plant in PNG’s Madang province, problems with the spillage containment system, and inadequate equipment maintenance. Continue Reading →

The Acid Sludge Streaming Out of Germany’s Coal Mines – by Laura Mallonee (Wired Magazine – October 23, 2019)

Even as it works to develop greener energy sources, the country is still dependent on highly pollutive lignite mining.

Imagine a Sunny Delight factory explosion in the gloomy realm of Mordor, spilling streams of “orange drink” through the land. That’s what Tom Hegen’s photos look like. Only thing is, they weren’t shot on Mordor—it’s Germany—and that tangy-looking liquid isn’t anything you’d want for breakfast. It’s acid drainage out of coal mines.

The Jupiter-hued liquid is a consequence of mining lignite—a soft, waterlogged coal that’s bottom-shelf cheap but produces less energy and 22more C02 emissions per ton than other fossil fuels.

Excavators unearth lignite hundreds of feet below ground; exposed to air, sulphide minerals in the rocks oxidize, releasing acid and heavy metals like iron and copper that turn rain and groundwater into an ethereal sludge the EPA says may be “highly toxic.” Continue Reading →