Editor's note: May 2021

From Aberfan to Brumadinho, and Mariana to Mount Polley, a common thread runs through the mining industry's tragic recent history of tailings and waste management disasters.
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Potash tailings ponds at the Intrepid mine near Moab, Utah

That is, each of the engineers, regulators and operators involved in those projects believed at the time that all the necessary steps had been taken to prevent the disasters from happening.

And yet, they did.

The phrase "the only safe tailings pond is the one that isn't built" has cropped up regularly during the making of this month's tailings and waste management edition. But is this realistic?

The fact remains that mining companies will rely on tailings storage facilities for the near term. Given that there have been eight significant tailings incidents since Brumadinho, it is also clear that no silver bullet solution exists.

The good news is that new technologies, stricter standards and investor pressure are all on the rise, and these will help prevent more disasters until tailings ponds can be consigned to history. Government bodies, universities, engineers and mine operators are uniting to tackle the enormous challenge ahead.

As we hear in this month's edition, though it is early days, the Global Standard on Tailings Management is proving a regulatory breakthrough. The organisations that developed "the Standard" are also behind initiatives such as the Global Tailings Portal, which lists the details of over 1,900 TSFs in its database.

In monitoring, excuse the pun, but techniques such as the remote soil moisture monitoring method explained by Central Alliance and Utilis are breaking new ground.

The use of radar-enabled satellites for the remote monitoring of tailings storage facilities is also set to explode in coming years, particularly as the technology expands into related areas such as illegal mine monitoring and emissions monitoring.

The fact remains that mining companies will rely on tailings storage facilities for the near term.

Engineering innovation plays a critical role, and FLSmidth provides us with insights into how the company's new AFP2525 Automatic Filter Press can dewater on a vast scale. Recovering up to 95% of process water and creating the integrated dry stack tailings solution many see as the future of tailings management.

IDS GeoRadar and Geopraevent also explain how their new tailings dam monitoring solution, SLYX Slow Movement Analysis, can measure incredibly slow and tiny movements at tailings dams over several months or even years. Tiny and slow movements that lead to potentially massive, devastating failures that are over in minutes.

Water management is, of course, a critical "upstream" issue for tailings, and on this front, it is heartening to see companies such as Russian gold producer Polyus tackle the issue with greater commitment than ever before - indeed more than 93% of the water used its operations is now constantly recycled.

It is clear that no single technology, operational change, engineering innovation or piece of legislation can get the mining industry where it wants to be with tailings, but by working together, at least a tailings-free future can now be glimpsed.