MiningWatch Canada pushes for global review of safety of tailings dams

CBC Sudbury

Sudbury Third party would review engineering and ground conditions, says MiningWatch spokesperson

CBC News · 

State prosecutors in Brazil have charged Fabio Schvartsman, the former chief executive of the mining company Vale, and 15 other people with homicide in connection with a tailings dam disaster last January that killed more than 250 people.

Jamie Kneen is communications and outreach coordinator with MiningWatch Canada. Kneen said his organization is pushing for a global review of the safety of tailing dams. 

"We really need an independent third party with a lot of clout and credibility to have the authority to go in and investigate and look at the engineering but also the ground conditions," he said.

Vale and the company responsible for inspecting the dam have also been charged with environmental crimes.

Kneen stated there have been layers of negligence attached to the operation, which he says the company has tried to deflect.

Kneen said  the dam collapse should have been preventable.

"The liability is there in the sense that those structures are fairly technically designed and executed," he said. "And in this case, there were signs of instability and it was allowed to continue," he added.

Kneen explained that the charges are specific to the Brazilian operation. "But I hope that it has a larger effect in making the company much more attentive to its own engineers and its own internal reporting, but also to the demands of the community," he added.

As for the tailings dams in Sudbury, Kneen said "they've been determined to be fairly safe and stable but at the same time if anything did go wrong the consequences would be very, very serious."

Kneen said that while the engineers and the people on the front line have a great deal of responsibility, it needs to be clear that due diligence and accountability go all the way to the top.

"I think it's important to see how that plays out legally in Brazil, and what we can take from that for Canada or anywhere else in the world," he said. 

A spokesperson for Vale shared a statement from the Vale press office in Brazil, which reads in part:

It is important to note that other authorities are investigating the case and, at this point, it is premature to claim there was conscious assumption of risk to cause a deliberate breach of the dam. Vale trusts in the complete clarification of the causes of the breach and reaffirms its commitment to continue to fully co-operate with the authorities.

With files from Waubgeshig Rice