The United Nations wants action on mining waste storage sites, described by many as ‘ticking time bombs’ that unleash torrents of incredibly toxic water when they fail.
BILLINGS, Mont. – A string of mining waste disasters over the past decade show better protections are needed for communities downstream of massive polluted material storage sites, according to a United Nations report.
The UN Environment Program report tallied 40 significant mine waste accidents in the past decade. Most involved dams or other storage areas that failed, releasing torrents of polluted water.
Among the accidents highlighted by the agency were a 2015 dam collapse at a Brazilian iron-ore mine that killed 19 people and the Gold King Mine disaster in the U.S. that spilled pollution into rivers in three Western states. Although the rate of such accidents has been falling, the report warned that the consequences have grown more serious as waste impoundments get larger.
The iron-ore mine accident in Samarco, Brazil, for example, released some 40 million cubic meters (52 million cubic yards) of waste that polluted hundreds of miles of rivers and streams. The UNEP recommended governments and mining companies adopt a”zero-failure” goal for mining impoundments known as tailings dams and impose stronger regulations.
There are an estimated 30,000 industrial mines worldwide and hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that continue spewing pollution for decades after they’ve closed. Advocacy groups said in response to this week;s UNEP report that 341 people have been killed by mine waste accidents since 2008