UN body alarmed by mining spill disasters worldwide

By David Boughton

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) urges mining companies around the world to address the increase in mining waste spills.

The report, Mine Tailings Storage: Safety is No Accident[1]http://www.grida.no/publications/383, specifically looked at mine tailings, the waste remaining after resources are extracted. This waste must be stored, leading to spilling and contamination.

The report had two main recommendations. First, mining companies should prioritize safety for humans and the environment, as well as strive for a “shared zero-failure objective to tailings storage facilities.” Second, they would like a “UN Environment stakeholder forum to facilitate international strengthening of tailings dam regulation.”

The report had several other recommendations:

  • Establish more oversight, including a database of mine tailings, independent reviews, and expanded regulations.
  • Develop technology to prevent spilling and improve reusing and recycling.
  • Increase funding for research and insurance.
  • Improve gender diversity.

The report describes how mine waste has become a severe problem. There have been 40 global mine-waste failures in the last ten years, killing 341 people. Since 2014, seven failures have been so drastic they appeared in the international news.

Environmental organizations agree about the severity of the situation.

Payal Sampat of Earthworks USA called mine waste storage facilities “ticking time bombs, putting communities and waterways in harm’s way in the event of catastrophic failure.”

Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada noted these failures are increasing across the globe.

“We welcome this timely and much needed independent assessment by UNEP and we urge companies and governments to act on these recommendations,” said Lapointe.

These mine waste failures devastate surrounding communities, pollute drinking water, and destroy waterways. Tara Scurr of Amnesty International Canada believes this is a human rights issue, adding that “indigenous peoples and marginalized communities around the globe face enormous uphill struggles for justice and accountability in the wake of mining disasters.”

Ideally, the mining industry will now act.

As Richard Harkinson of the London Mining Network says, there now exists “a serious challenge to both mining companies and their regulators to improve the rigour of the management of mining waste facilities.”

It is now the responsibility of mining companies to reverse this trend and begin to reduce global mine waste spills.

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.grida.no/publications/383