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Global mining world correct to take action on slimes dam negligence, establish strong auditing behaviour

1st March 2019

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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The global mining world is correct to focus intensely on monitoring particularly the upstream varieties of mine tailings storage facilities (TSFs), which have taken so many lives and caused such environmental damage.

The Brazilian tragedies have been ghastly and every time one checks on the number of people who died after last month’s horrific TSF collapse at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão iron-ore mine, in Minas Gerais province, the number increases.

One would have imagined that a province with such a mining name would have been a world leader in doing things right. But the opposite has proved true and the province is getting world headlines for the wrong reasons.

The latest report on Vale’s Córrego do Feijão tragedy is that more than 300 people are likely to have perished, with many still unaccounted for.

Diversified mining and marketing company Glencore was correct to spring into action in 2016, ahead of the first Brazilian Samarco tragedy that killed 19 at an iron-ore mine owned by Vale and BHP.

It now has ongoing auditing procedures on 140 slimes dams, 65 of them active and 75 of them closed. The concern is around 51% of the Glencore TSFs being of the upstream kind that requires ongoing attention.

“This is an issue for the mining industry and we support a TSF classification system and requirements for external review, with transparent disclosure to stakeholders and communities,” Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg told Mining Weekly last week.

Many industry discussions have been taking place under the auspices of the International Council on Mining and Metallurgy, with Samarco culprit BHP now also backing the concept of an independent international body being established to oversee the construction, integrity and operations of tailings dams, which hold mining waste.

“As an industry, we now have to redouble our efforts to make sure events like this simply cannot happen,” BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie was quoted as saying.

Rio Tinto also disclosed information on its TSFs, revealing that its global standard is under review. Of the 100 TSFs on 32 sites, 21 are upstream construction facilities, which sounds the alarm bells.

Although Kumba Iron Ore, in South Africa, has an exemplary safety record, it was correct for CE Themba Mkhwanazi to also highlight this grave mining risk last week and commit his company to the highest standards of environmental protection.

Brazil’s mining regulator has belatedly banned new upstream TSFs and set a deadline of August 2021 for the removal of existing ones.

Vale has suspended activities at its Fabrica and Vargem Grande iron-ore mines after the crackdown.

Engineering and environmental consultancies should come to the fore to ensure safe ways of storing mine waste and recommend valid inspections, geotechnical excellence and faultless slope analysis, particularly against the background of upstream wall raises being reportedly “very popular” in Southern Africa.

An end must be brought to the death and destruction that TSFs have been causing across the globe.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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