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

EXPLAINER-How do miners dispose of their waste in the sea? – by Melainie Burton (Reuters U.S. – October 11, 2019)

MELBOURNE, Oct 11 (Reuters) – Sea disposal of mining waste could spread as Indonesia weighs adopting the technique for new nickel projects, as Papua New Guinea is doing for a gold mine proposed by Australia’s Newcrest Mining.

The management of mining waste has drawn attention since two dam disasters in Brazil, and after red mud spilled into Papua New Guinea’s Basamuk Bay from Ramu Nickel’s operations in August.

An expert in chemical contamination has called test results from the Ramu Nickel spill “alarming,” media said this week. That spill resulted from an operational failure, however, rather than an issue with tailings management. Continue Reading →

Editorial: Funds demand more tailings transparency – by Trish Saywell (Northern Miner – October 8, 2019)

Global mining news

Less than a week after the Jan. 25 tailings dam collapse at Vale’s Feijao iron ore mine in Brazil that killed 251 people and left 19 missing, the Church of England Pensions Board, along with Sweden’s Public Pension Funds Council, Dutch funds APG and Robeco, New Zealand Super, the U.K.’s LGPS Central and Canada’s BMO Global Asset Management — together representing over US$1.3 trillion in assets — jointly called for a global independent public classification system that would monitor the safety risk of tailings dams.

The Church of England Pensions Board estimates there are 18,000 tailings storage facilities (TSFs) worldwide, 3,500 of which are active, but says there is no consolidated public register of them. “Without a global register, the precise scale of the risks are not clear, nor is it clear which company has responsibility for which facilities,” it says.

“This proposal will drive a new level of accountability and transparency within the mining sector,” Adam Matthews, director of Ethics and Engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board, stated on Jan. 31. “Simply put, these failures of tailings dams should not be happening. These are not black-swan events.” Continue Reading →

New plan to remove arsenic from Long Lake in Sudbury unveiled – by Jim Moodie (Sudbury Star – October 9, 2019)

It took two years to develop approach to clean up Long Lake

After a two-year delay, a new plan has been put forward for arsenic cleanup at Long Lake that is expected to have less impact on area residents.

“Staff (members) have been working very hard behind the scenes to address the concerns that were raised two years ago,” said Brian McMahon, director of mine rehabilitation with the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.

“We didn’t think ourselves that it would take so long to get to this stage, but I think the result is we’re going to have a much better approach for cleanup at Long Lake.” Continue Reading →

Western Nunavut gold miner pleads guilty to Fisheries Act violation – by Jane George (Nunatsiaq News – October 8, 2019)

CAMBRIDGE BAY—TMAC Resources Inc., which operates the Hope Bay gold mine about 125 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, must pay a $50,000 fine for the unauthorized discharge of effluent into a nearby creek.

TMAC, which pleaded guilty to violating a regulation under the Fisheries Act, was ordered to pay the fine on Oct. 2 at a hearing in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

The money will go into the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which ensures court-awarded penalties support projects with positive environmental impacts. “It’s not good,” said Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility, of the conviction. Continue Reading →

High uranium levels seen in Navajo women decades after Cold war era mining by U.S. on their reservation (CBC News – October 8, 2019)

Albuquerque, New Mexico — About a quarter of Navajo women and some infants who were part of a federally funded study on uranium exposure had high levels of the radioactive metal in their systems, decades after mining for ingredients for Cold War weaponry ended on their reservation, a U.S. health official Monday. The early findings from the University of New Mexico study were shared during a congressional field hearing in Albuquerque.

Dr. Loretta Christensen – the chief medical officer on the Navajo Nation for Indian Health Service, a partner in the research – said 781 women were screened during an initial phase of the study that ended last year.

Among them, 26% had concentrations of uranium that exceeded levels found in the highest 5% of the U.S. population, and newborns with equally high concentrations continued to be exposed to uranium during their first year, she said. Continue Reading →

After Dumping Vale, Church of England Says Miner Has ‘Way to Go’ – by Isis Almeida and Sabrina Valle (Bloomberg News – September 24, 2019)

The Church of England has dumped Vale SA, and it doesn’t look like the Brazilian miner will make it back into the good books any time soon.

The church sold its shares in Vale after a tailings dam collapse in January killed at least 249 people in the Brazilian town of Brumadinho. It has also blocked investments in the miner through an ethical exclusion process, according to Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement at the church’s pension board.

There’s a “long way to go” before the church is ready to backtrack, he said by phone before the Financial Times Commodities Americas Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where he is scheduled to speak. Continue Reading →

Miners must earn this trust through action: Clearer rules will help bring about safer tailings dams – by Bruno Oberle (Financial Times – September 20, 2019)

Bruno Oberle is chair of the Global Tailings Review, was state secretary for environment in the Swiss government, professor for green economy and resource governance at EPFL, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and heads its International Risk Governance Center.

In January 2019, a tailings dam near the town of Brumadinho in south-eastern Brazil collapsed. Mining waste — or tailings — rapidly flowed down a valley, claiming the lives of 248 people (with 22 individuals still missing) and causing widespread destruction.

Sadly, this was not the first time tailings have been released from the dams built to hold them, with devastating impact on the nearby communities and the natural environment. Nor was this the first time an event of this magnitude has happened in Brazil.

Following the disaster at Brumadinho, I was appointed chair of the Global Tailings Review convened by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). Continue Reading →

Michigan, Wisconsin Could Face Mining Disaster – by Al Gedicks (Urban Milwaukee – September 18, 2019)


Regulators allowing open pit mine near Lake Michigan that could release catastrophic amount of toxic waste.

The willingness of top Michigan regulators to ignore their own scientific staff and approve a wetland permit for a controversial open pit mine next to the Menominee River on the Michigan-Wisconsin border has been reported by Urban Milwaukee, but is only the beginning of a dangerous decision-making process. The proposed Back Forty metallic sulfide mine is owned by Aquila Resources, a Canadian exploration company that has no experience with mining.

Despite steadily increasing scientific evidence of the danger of a tailings dam failure next to the Menominee River and the potential catastrophic release of toxic mine waste into Lake Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) appears ready to approve the dam’s design.

That design is associated with the January 2019 Brazilian tailings dam disaster that killed at least 250 people in Brazil’s deadliest-ever mining accident. Brazil has already banned this design from further use and ordered the decommissioning of 88 existing dams employing this design. Continue Reading →

Abandoned mine cleanup federal, provincial responsibility: Cook-Searson – by Alex MacPherson (Saskatoon StarPhoenix – September 18, 2019)

Liberal candidate Tammy Cook-Searson says both levels of government should help clean up the abandoned Gunnar mine.

The Liberal candidate in Saskatchewan’s vast northern riding says both the federal and provincial governments should be responsible for cleaning up the abandoned Gunnar uranium mine and other, similar sites in the region.

That aligns with the view of many Saskatchewan politicians, but breaks with the federal Liberals’ position that the province should put up virtually all of the cash for the massively over-budget project, which is currently estimated to cost $280 million.

“I think that both levels of government need to sit down and figure out what the fair share is. Negotiate it,” Tammy Cook-Searson said of the largest environmental remediation project in Saskatchewan history, which was originally expected to cost just $24.6 million. Continue Reading →

Vale misled public on dangerous dams, prompting Brazil probe: source – by Marta Nogueira, Jake Spring and Christian Plumb (Reuters Canada – September 17, 2019)

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Faced with public outrage after its second mining dam collapse in four years killed at least 240 people in Brazil, Vale SA misrepresented what it had done to shut down its riskiest dams, a review of the company’s statements shows.

Fabio Schvartsman, Vale’s then-chief executive, said at a nationally broadcast news conference days after the dam burst in late January that the company had already decommissioned nine “upstream dams” in the wake of a 2015 disaster involving the same type of structure, and planned to dismantle 10 more over the next few years. The company repeated the claim in a statement on its website.

Reuters asked Vale for details on these moves on February 5, seven days after Schvartsman’s news conference. In March, some five weeks later, Vale gave Reuters a list of nine dams that it said it had closed since 2014, a year before the Mariana disaster. Continue Reading →

Global mining panel looks to boost accountability after Brazil disaster – by Christian Plumb (Reuters U.S. – September 11, 2019)

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (Reuters) – New safety standards being drawn up by a global mining industry panel will include rules to better define management accountability after Vale SA’s (VALE3.SA) January tailings dam disaster, a top industry official said on Wednesday.

The governance standards would help ensure independent reviews of dams and adequate disclosure of risks, said Tom Butler, president of the International Council on Mining and Metals.

“The engineers know what they’re doing with these things but the implementation and the management and the change management, that all involves humans,” Butler told Reuters in an interview in Brazil. Continue Reading →

Papua New Guinea may shut Chinese-owned nickel plant after spill – by Melanie Burton (Reuters U.S. – August 29, 2019)

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A nickel processing plant owned by Metallurgical Corp of China (MCC) that spilled mine waste into Papua New Guinea’s Basamuk Bay faces compensation claims and possibly closure, the head of the country’s minerals authority said on Thursday.

MCC’s Ramu nickel plant located in Madang, on the country’s northeastern coast, spilled waste into the bay over the weekend which caused the surrounding ocean to turn red and left a muddy residue on the rocky shoreline, according to locals and photographs of the incident.

The spillage occurred when a plant operator did not notice a pump failure during a maintenance shutdown, causing a tank to overflow and mining waste to disperse into the ocean, Jerry Garry, managing director of PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) said. Continue Reading →

Chinese-owned nickel plant spills waste into Papua New Guinea bay – by Melanie Burton and Tom Daly (Reuters U.S. – August 28, 2019)

MELBOURNE/BEIJING (Reuters) – Waste from a nickel plant in Papua New Guinea owned by Metallurgical Corporation of China spilled into the adjacent Basamuk Bay over the weekend, three sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

Locals noticed red discharge clouding parts of the bay that is next to the Ramu Nickel plant in Madang, Papua New Guinea, a local indigenous person who took photographs of the spillage told Reuters. The man declined to be identified because of the topic’s sensitivity.

The head of Papua New Guinea’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) said that its officials, as well as those from PNG’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), had put together a preliminary report on the incident. Continue Reading →

Amazon Gold and Army Suspicion Fuel Bolsonaro’s Rainforest Rage – by Simone Preissler Iglesias and Bruce Douglas (Bloomberg News – August 28, 2019)

Among the tens of thousands of Brazilians who descended on the Amazonian goldmine of Serra Pelada in the 1980s was Percy Geraldo Bolsonaro, father of the current president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro senior was among the wildcat miners who endured brutal working conditions in the quest for riches. The rainforest suffered too, with widespread environmental degradation as miners ripped apart the Amazon in their desperate hunt for gold.

It’s an aspect of Brazil’s national psyche that resonates deeply with the president. “Gold mining is a vice; it’s in the blood,” he told miners from the region in a video posted to YouTube in July 2018. “We owe all we have to people with spirits like yours.” Continue Reading →

Imperial Metals seeks to present evidence before decision on potential Mt. Polley environmental prosecution – by Gordon Hoekstra (Vancouver Sun – August 26, 2019)

Imperial Metals wants evidence from a trial on the responsibility for the Mount Polley mine dam failure to be considered in a prosecutorial decision by Canada against the company for potential environmental damage charges relating to the breach.

In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Aug. 19, Imperial Metals says the evidence of former-British Columbia chief inspector of mines Al Hoffman is of “fundamental importance” to establishing whether there is any reasonable prospect of securing a conviction against the company under the federal Fisheries Act, and whether it is in the public interest to launch such a prosecution.

The mining company has asked for the court’s permission to use Hoffman’s evidence and related B.C. government responses collected during the discovery stage, information normally only to be used in the lawsuit for which it is gathered. Continue Reading →