A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has called for collective action from governments and mining industry to prevent further tailing dams disasters around the world.
Titled ‘Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident’, the report expressed concerns over the growing number of serious dam failures despite advancements in engineering.
The report stated: “Regulators, industry, and communities should adopt a ‘zero-failure’ objective, in which safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor.”
The report cited a disaster in south-eastern Brazil in November 2015 when a waste dam at an iron-ore mine collapsed, resulting in the death of 19 people.
The disaster also rendered several people homeless, in addition to polluting valleys, estuaries, the Rio Doce river and the Atlantic ocean, affecting fishing communities in the region.
It also referred to the collapse of the dam at the Vale and BHP Billiton co-owned Germano mine, which released more than 33 million cubic metres of tailings, devastating the forest along the river banks and also killing wildlife.
A ‘safety-first’ approach to tailings storage should be reflected in both management actions and on-the-ground operations, the report stated.
Furthermore, it proposed the formation of a UN Environment stakeholder forum to lead to stringent tailings dam regulation.
Some of the measures recommended include setting up a database of mine sites, identifying best practice and developing technical solutions to address the main causes of failure.
The regulations could include independent monitoring of waste dams and penalising companies in case of non-compliance.
Firms have been advised to adopt cleaner processes, new technologies and re-use materials in their efforts to reduce waste.