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

Gold rush-era rules to stop mining pollution are still in use – but they’re failing – by Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies (The Conversation – August 14, 2019)

Bento Rodrigues, Brazil, 6 November 2015

Wet, orange mud covers everything: streets, houses, cars, animals, trees, fields. The violent force of a torrent of mud has overturned cars and left them hovering on top of buildings. It has torn the roofs off houses and pushed over their walls.

The view of the town from helicopters flying above reveals a desolate landscape: sludge-caked animals struggle to free themselves, and rescue teams search desperately for survivors. Mud dyes the river orange for hundreds of kilometres downstream, and two weeks later it will flow out into the Atlantic in an expanding orange stain.

This devastation is the result of the catastrophic failure of a tailings dam: a vast settling pond built to store the muddy waste from Samarco’s Germano iron ore mine. Continue Reading →

A dam collapse in Brazil has some worried about PolyMet’s plans. Why the DNR says it won’t happen here – by Walker Orenstein ( – August 13, 2019)

In January, the tailings dam at a Brazilian iron ore mine collapsed, killing nearly 250 people. The wave of toxic waste and mud also wrecked two dozen buildings and polluted water for five miles.

In Minnesota, the disaster raised eyebrows among opponents of a copper-nickel mine planned near Hoyt Lakes. That’s because the design of the dam in Brumadinho was similar to one PolyMet Mining hopes to build. In fact, the Vale mining company had used a method to judge dam safety created by a PolyMet adviser.

And the tragedy in Brazil embodied the worst fears of some Minnesota environmental activists and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who warn PolyMet could pollute the St. Louis River. Continue Reading →

Sierra Leone community’s suit against diamond miner shows activist trend – by Cooper Inveen (Reuters U.S. – August 6, 2019)

FREETOWN, August 6 (Reuters) – At the foot of a slag heap some 40 meters high, Adi Kalie Bangura showed the black welts that dot his arms and legs that he says are the result of drinking and bathing in water contaminated by Sierra Leone’s largest diamond mine.

The water “makes us get headaches and feel sick in our stomachs,” said Bangura, a traditional healer and community elder in Koidu, the largest city in the West African country’s diamond-rich Kono district. The aluminium roof of the mud brick house he shares with a dozen family members is pockmarked by holes he says are the result of rocks loosened by years of blasting by the mine.

Bangura’s claims are part of those made by a group of Koidu residents in a lawsuit against diamond mining firm Octea Limited and related companies, highlighting how communities in developing countries are becoming increasingly emboldened to use courts to pursue grievances against mining firms. Continue Reading →

Mount Polley mine disaster five years later; emotions, accountability unresolved – by Dirk Meissner (Canadian Press/CTV News – August 4, 2019)

VICTORIA – People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine.

A five-year deadline for federal Fisheries Act charges expired Sunday, while the possibility of other charges under the same act remains with no timeline for a decision. British Columbia missed the three-year deadline to proceed with charges under both the province’s Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.

Likely resident Lisa Kraus said the central B.C. community of about 350 people remains wounded, concerned and somewhat divided about the tailings dam breach at the Imperial Metals open-pit copper and gold mine. Continue Reading →

Murkowski, Sullivan urge action on mine cleanup – by Peter Segall (Juneau Empire – August 5, 2019)

Juneau Empire

Alaska’s Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, on Monday hosted a number of state and federal agencies, local organizations and commissioners of the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission for a round-table discussion of transboundary mining.

Among the organizations present were the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Salmon Beyond Borders, Council of Alaska Producers, Alaska Miners Association and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Government organizations present were the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Continue Reading →

The Impact Of Mexico’s Worst Mining Disaster, 5 Years Later – by Kendal Blust ( – August 5, 2019)

Willows and cottonwoods sway on the banks of the Rio Sonora as it flows through the little Sonoran pueblo Baviácora. Nearby, cows graze lazily in lush green pastures on the westernmost edge of Sonora’s Sierra Madre mountain range. Even in the sticky summer heat, it’s an idyllic scene.

But local Martha Velarde said nothing has been the same in this quiet river valley since Aug. 6, 2014, when Mexico’s largest mining company spilled nearly 11 million gallons of copper sulfate acid solution carrying heavy metals into the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers.

“The water was running orange, red, a coppery color through the entire Rio Sonora,” Velarde remembered. Neighbors started getting sick. Animals were dying. And at first, nobody knew why. Continue Reading →

Brazil’s Vale dam disasters trigger $2 billion in fresh writedowns – by Christian Plumb (Reuters U.S. – July 31, 2019)

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian miner Vale SA (VALE3.SA) on Wednesday said it swung to a quarterly loss as the company announced more than $2 billion in fresh writedowns related to two deadly dam bursts suffered by the company over a period of less than four years.

In late January, the collapse of a Vale tailings dam storing muddy mining waste near the town of Brumadinho killed nearly 250 people, less than four years after a deadly disaster at the company’s Samarco joint venture with BHP Group (BHP.AX).

The world’s largest iron ore exporter has since been grappling with the fallout, which has forced it to shake up its board, replace its CEO and made it the target of various criminal and regulatory probes. Continue Reading →

First Nations call for stepped-up financial assurance to mitigate mine disaster risk – by Gordon Hoekstra (Vancouver Sun – July 30, 2019)

The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council is calling on the provincial government to close a policy gap that allows mining companies not to provide financial assurance to pay for the costs of a mine disaster.

The call comes on the eve of the five-year anniversary of Imperial Metals’ catastrophic Mount Polley mine dam spill in the Interior — which has still resulted in no environmental charges — and as the council released a report it commissioned on reducing the risks of mining disasters in B.C.

In 2014, the province ordered Imperial Metals to clean up the massive spill, which the company did, but the council’s report notes that if a company went bankrupt, the public could be on the hook for costs. Continue Reading →

NEWS RELEASE: Changes Needed To Make B.C. Mining Companies Financially Accountable For Disasters (BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council – July 30, 2019)

VANCOUVER, July 30, 2019 /CNW/ – Five years after the Mount Polley tailings dam breach that spilled 24 million cubic metres of waste into critical salmon habitat in Fraser River Watershed, communities and taxpayers face the prospect of having to foot the bill to clean-up the next mining disaster unless the BC government compels mining companies to provide funds for cleanup, according to a new report released today.

The report, commissioned by the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) and written by economist Jason Dion, calls on the province to introduce a new legal framework to close a policy gap that allows mining companies to operate without providing financial assurance to cover the costs of a disaster.

Now is the time to make these changes. The expert panel mandated by BC First Nations Leadership Council and the provincial government to determine the cause of the disaster warned BC can expect two massive dam failures every 10 years unless mining laws are changed. Continue Reading →

Chile’s mining waste poses silent threat to humans on multiple fronts (Channel News Asia – July 25, 2019)

For every ton of minerals extracted, 30 tonnes of mining waste are generated.
With 1.5 million tons of residue created per day, Chile is the world leader in
mining waste.

REQUINOA, Chile: From the sky, the glistening emerald ponds of northern Chile are almost beautiful, but closer to the ground they harbour an ugly and dangerous secret: the reservoirs, filled with toxic waste from the country’s mining industry, are ticking time bombs.

Mines are the pillar of Chile’s economy, but their byproducts – which accumulate in ravines, mountain areas, river beds and reservoirs, and which are often used to create tailings dams, pose a handful of problems for surrounding inhabitants.

Apart from the environmental threat, the recent collapse of two Brazilian dams that killed hundreds of people has triggered alarm in Chile, which produces approximately a third of the world’s copper. Continue Reading →

‘Tragedy of pollution’: Award-winning article details how gov’t, miners wrought harm on Sudbury’s landscape – by Staff (Sudbury Star – July 26, 2019)

A scholarly article exploring the “tragedy of pollution in Sudbury” has earned its authors an award from the Ontario Historical Society.

The 2018 Riddell Award, acknowledging the best work on a subject of Ontario history in a given year, was recently presented to Mark Kuhlberg and Scott Miller for their article Protection to Sulphite Smoke Tortfeasors: The Tragedy of Pollution in Sudbury, Ontario, the World’s Nickel Capital, 1884-1927, which appeared in The Canadian Historical Review in June 2018.

A tortfeasor, by the way, is someone who commits a wrongful act, in this case applied to the mining companies that spread harmful emissions, but only because, as the article contends, it was permitted by provincial lawmakers at the time. Continue Reading →

Canada mine waste prompts calls for better water protection (Associated Press – July 22, 2019)

KALISPELL, Mont. — Towns, tribes and politicians in U.S. states bordering British Columbia are seeking better oversight and stricter regulations to protect them from hazardous pollution that flow downstream from coal mines in the Canadian province.

Leaders in Libby, Troy and Eureka, towns along the Kootenai River, wrote in separate letters to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock saying their livelihoods depend on the region’s rivers and lakes. But those waterways that support diverse wildlife and recreational interests are being compromised by contaminants from British Columbia coal mines, they said.

They and tribal leaders in Montana and Idaho want state and federal officials to fund better long-term water quality monitoring and to adopt a strict water quality standard for selenium. Continue Reading →

New Brunswick: Latest Sisson Mine approval leaves First Nations, conservation groups uneasy – by Logan Perley (CBC News New Brunswick – July 22, 2019)

Tailings pond for proposed mine north of Fredericton requires damming two fish-bearing brooks

For two years, Nick Polchies of Woodstock First Nation and his dog Arizona have been waking up in the woods, on land that someday — and for centuries to come — could be a toxic tailings pond.

Polchies initially went to the site, about 80 kilometres northwest of Fredericton, to help the Wolastoqi grandmothers already camping out there to protest the proposed Sisson Mine.

Northcliff Resources Ltd., a Vancouver-based company, says its open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine would create 500 jobs during construction and 300 jobs for the 27 years it is expected to operate. Continue Reading →

Venezuela has an Indigenous Mining Arc that is destroying national parks: Expert – by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud ( – July 14, 2019)

Venezuelan scholar and forestry expert, José Rafael Lozada, is making public a series of videos where he demonstrates that besides the polemic Mining Arc of the Orinoco River, there is another mining arc devastating Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, which is a Unesco world heritage site, as well as the Caura National Park and the Southern Bolívar State Protective Zone.

Lozada calls the area ‘Indigenous Mining Arc’ and, according to his review of media stories, interviews with local sources and research trips to the area, it is the product of a series of deals that the Pemón tribe made with both the current Nicolás Maduro regime and the former Hugo Chávez regime.

Besides the archival documentation, the expert analyzes satellite and Google Earth images from different years and shows how massive placer gold mining operations that employ dredges have grown anarchically in protected areas. Continue Reading →

Twin Metals changes its plan to deal with mine waste — to a strategy lauded by some environmentalists – by Walker Orenstein (Minn Post – July 18, 2019)

The safety of storing mining waste in a tailings basin has been a critical part of the debate over copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota, with some environmental advocates warning that failures and spills could unleash toxic slurry into nearby waters.

Now, in a major shift, one of two companies hoping to build a copper-nickel mine says it plans to store much of its waste using a “dry stack” method, an emerging technology that many of the same environmental nonprofits — and some mining experts — argue will better prevent water pollution.

Twin Metals Minnesota, which plans to mine just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, said Thursday it would abandon its plan to use a tailings basin, which entails waste rock being covered in a pond held back by a dam. Continue Reading →