UNEP urges tailings storage safety

This week global coalition the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) issued a report stressing safety regarding storing mine tailings and avoid high-risk dam building methods
UNEP urges tailings storage safety UNEP urges tailings storage safety UNEP urges tailings storage safety UNEP urges tailings storage safety UNEP urges tailings storage safety

Staff reporter

In the eight-page communication, entitled 'Mine tailings storage: safety is no accident', released recently in Geneva, Switzerland, the group asks the industry and states should enforce a “zero-failure objective” to halt waste spills. 

The assessment details more than 40 waste failures that have occurred in the last decade. The group said the events, eight of which have been classified as significant, have killed 341 since 2008 and had an impact on waterways and drinking water sources.

It also makes recommendations, including placing safety over costs as determining factors when developing a storage facility, and to establish a UN Environment stakeholder forum to bolster dam regulations worldwide.

Other recommendations include:

  • Transparency: Establish an accessible public-interest, global database of mine sites, tailings storage facilities and research" and "Fund research into mine tailings storage failures and management of active, inactive and abandoned mine sites.
  • Accountability: Expand mining regulations to include independent monitoring and the enforcement of financial and criminal sanctions for non-compliance.
  • Best practices: Avoid dam construction methods known to be high risk, and require detailed and ongoing evaluations of potential failure modes, residual risks and perpetual management costs of tailings storage facilities.
  • Financial securities: Enforce mandatory financial securities for life of the mine; establish a global financial assurance system for mine-sites, and fund a global insurance pool. Also, ensure any project assessment or expansion publishes all externalised costs, with an independent life-of-mine sustainability cost-benefit analysis.

“Industry and regulators have been aware of the challenge of safe tailings storage for many years. New process, management strategies, industry guidelines and a commitment to safety has seen reduction in catastrophic failures. We need to build on these successes,” the group said, noting that the challenge now is for collective action.

“To embrace the technological and management reforms that can both reduce risk and the environmental footprint of mining…recognising the reality of a cyclical global industry, co-operative, international action is the key to ensuring that all tailings dams are fit for purpose and the risks to local and downstream communities, sensitive environments and economics are reduced and managed until we reach our target of zero failures.”

The report can be read in its entirety here.