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Safe storage of mining waste focus of report

Case Studies | August 1, 2018 | By:

The 2008 construction of a mine tailings storage area at the Goro Nickel Mine, Kwe West Bassin, New Caledonia, France. Photograph by Barsamuphe

In December 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and GRID-Arendal, an organization that supports environmentally sustainable development in partnership with UN Environment and other collaborators, published “Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident.” The report recommends mining companies adopt simple steps to reduce environmental destruction and death by changing the way they store and manage mine waste.

The report points out that every year mine storage dams fail, with sometimes lethal but almost always environmentally damaging consequences.

Brazil, for example, is still cleaning up, and will be for many years, following one of the biggest environmental disasters in mining history. The 2015 failure of the BHP Billiton and Vale–owned Samarco tailings dam killed 19 people, devastated downstream villages and contaminated 404 miles (650 km) of the Rio Doce system.

Such dam failures are no accident—mining companies themselves acknowledge that they could be avoided by implementing a higher standard of construction and management. According to the report, the recommended standard, while requiring the commitment of dedicated personnel and funding, would indeed prevent tailings dam failures.

The problems of mine waste are relatively simple to solve and have been identified by the industry in many postdisaster reviews and best practice guidelines.

To read the full report, visit

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