Public Consultation Launched on Global Tailings Dam Standards

By Barbara Lewis | November 15, 2019

LONDON — 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.

Bruno Oberle, who previously worked for the Swiss environment agency and is leading the review, said the aim was to decide on standards next year.

The consultation will include an online survey that has been translated into seven languages.

“It is vital that we continue to learn and understand what must be done to eliminate tailings facility failures,” Oberle said.

He is visiting different countries and communities to gather all relevant points of view, he said.

Some ethical investors involved in the quest for new standards have warned they might have to divest their shares unless they have clear information on potential risks.

They said last month a global inquiry had shown many tailings dams had stability issues.

A statement on Friday from the ICCM, UNEP and the PRI said the public consultation would consist of an online survey and consultations across a range of mining jurisdictions.

The draft standard focuses on six main areas.

Mine operators will have to develop knowledge about the social, economic and environmental context of a proposed or existing tailings facility.

A requirement on affected communities will focus on those living and working nearby.

The standards will review design, construction, operation and monitoring of tailings facilities.

They will examine management and governance of tailings facilities, as well as emergency preparedness and response in the event of a disaster, the re-establishment of ecosystems, and the long-term recovery of affected communities.

About the photo: An aerial view shows flooding triggered by a collapsed dam near Brumadinho, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Brazilian mining company Vale SA said it didn’t yet have information on deaths or injuries at the dam but said that tailings have reached the community of Vila Ferteco. (Bruno Correia/Nitro via AP)

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