(London-Washington-Ottawa). An international coalition of non-governmental organizations support the recommendations of a new report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which urges governments and industry to act to stop deadly and damaging mining spills worldwide. UNEP calls for an urgent UN Environment Stakeholder Forum to strengthen regulations internationally.
The 70-page report, entitled “Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident,” highlights over 40 mining waste failures over the last decade, including 7 failures significant enough to make international news since 2014. These failures have killed some 341 people since 2008 and damaged hundreds of kilometres of waterways, affected drinking water sources, and jeopardized the livelihoods of dozens of communities.
“We believe the recommendations from this UNEP report pose a serious challenge to both mining companies and their regulators to improve the rigour of the management of mining waste facilities,” states Richard Harkinson of the London Mining Network.
Payal Sampat, Earthworks (USA): “Mine waste storage facilities are like ticking time bombs, putting communities and waterways in harm’s way in the event of catastrophic failure. Despite claims by mining trade associations, governments and companies have done far too little to truly prevent future disasters.”
Ugo Lapointe, MiningWatch Canada: “Catastrophic mining waste failures are on the rise worldwide and on all continents. We welcome this timely and much needed independent assessment by UNEP and we urge companies and governments to act on these recommendations.”
The UNEP report points to thousands of mining waste dams worldwide that pose a potential threat to people and the environment located downstream, noting that: “The increasing number and size of tailings dams around the globe magnifies the potential environmental, social and economic cost of catastrophic failure impact and the risks and costs of perpetual management. These risks present a challenge for this generation, and if not addressed now, a debt we will leave to future generations.”
The report makes 18 recommendations, including two overarching ones:
• “The approach to tailings storage facilities must place safety first by making environmental and human safety a priority in management actions and on-the-ground operations. Regulators, industry and communities should adopt a shared zero-failure objective to tailings storage facilities where ‘safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor’ (Mount Polley expert panel, 2015, p. 125)”
• “Establish a UN Environment stakeholder forum to facilitate international strengthening of tailings dam regulation.”
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 externalized costs, with an independent life-of-mine sustainability cost-benefit analysis.”
Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada: “The long-reaching human rights impacts of catastrophic dam failures must not be underestimated. Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities around the globe face enormous uphill struggles for justice and accountability in the wake of mining disasters. The UNEP assessment is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of mining waste safety in the protection of human rights.”
The complete report and recommendations are available here.
- Lydia James, London Mining Network, 07460 394233
- Alan Septoff, Earthworks, 01 202 271 2355
- Ugo Lapointe, MiningWatch Canada, 01 514 708 0134
- Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada, 01 250 703 1141
- Michael Reckordt, 0049 151 211 676 18