ICMM to create international standards for mine tailings facilities

JP Casey 27 February 2019 (Last Updated July 26th, 2019 10:34)

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has announced a plan to create an international standard for tailings facilities used to store mine waste, in the wake of the collapse of a Vale-owned dam in Brazil, which claimed the lives of 169 people.

ICMM to create international standards for mine tailings facilities
Destruction in the state of Minas Gerais following the 2015 disaster. Credit: Senado Federal

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has announced a plan to create an international standard for tailings facilities used to store mine waste, in the wake of the collapse of a Vale-owned dam in Brazil, which claimed the lives of 169 people.

The ICMM governing council, which consists of the CEOs of its 27 member companies, including international miners Anglo American, BHP and Vale, will create what it calls an ‘independent panel of experts’ to set new standards for tailings facilities. The member companies will then have to ensure their tailings facilities comply with these standards.

“The standard will be based on best practices to ensure that tailings facility risks are managed appropriately, consistently, and transparently.”

“ICMM CEOs have committed to creating a step change for the industry in the safety of tailings facilities by developing a recognised international standard for member companies,” said ICMM CEO Tom Butler.

“The standard will be based on best practices to ensure that tailings facility risks are managed appropriately, consistently, and transparently.”

While the council has not revealed all the details of the standard, it did announce that it would involve a “global and transparent” classification system based on the potential consequences of a dam’s function. The standard will also require companies to consider and plan for emergency situations while the facilities are being constructed, and create a system of independent reviews of tailings facilities.

The ICMM will also work with representatives from industry, investors and communities to carry out the reviews, and ensure the process takes into account as wide a range of opinions as possible. Adherence to the new standard will also become a requirement for ICMM membership, although the council hopes this will encourage non-member companies to improve their tailings facilities ahead of applying for membership, rather than dissuading them from joining the ICMM.

The announcement follows the ICMM’s comments in response to the Vale disaster, when Butler promised that the council will work to prevent similar tragedies from taking place again.

“We must improve in order to regain public confidence in the way we manage these facilities,” he said.

The new standard is a stronger response to a disaster than in 2015, when the ICMM commissioned a report into the Samarco disaster, which killed 19 people, but did not incorporate the findings into its governance structure of membership criteria, as it has done this time.

The Samarco dam was joint-owned by BHP and Vale; while Vale was not an ICMM member at the time, the council will be concerned that two of its current members were involved in two significant environmental disasters in Brazil in the last four years.