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News Release

New Global Industry Standard Will Not End Mine Waste Disasters

Source: 
MiningWatch Canada & partners

In response to the new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Industry Standard) launched today, a group of scientists, community organizations, and non-governmental organizations say the Industry Standard does not go far enough to adequately protect workers, communities, and ecosystems from future mine waste failures.

Together with Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada, the group released a "Scorecard" comparing the Industry Standard to the 16 Safety First Guidelines. Those guidelines were launched in June by 142 scientists, community groups, and non-governmental organizations from 24 countries. The group concludes that over half (nine) of the 16 guidelines are not met, six are partially met, and only one is fulfilled.

Their analysis highlights that the Industry Standard is voluntary and mostly management-based, not performance-based, with no implementation or enforcement mechanisms, and no set of consequences or penalties if companies fail to meet the Standard. The Industry Standard leaves too much room for interpretation and self-regulation, and lacks specific requirements for best practices, including:

  • community consent and the establishment of no-go zones for the protection of valued areas,
  • putting safety before cost considerations, and banning riskier practices such as upstream dams and mine waste dams located immediately upstream of communities,
  • mandating Best Available Technologies and specific safety controls, such as filtered tailings and stricter requirements for dam slopes, factors of safety, and annual probabilities of failure, and
  • requiring the strongest levels of independent reviews, as well as legal and financial accountability.

The group is extremely concerned that the Industry Standard would mandate the safest design only if a dam failure could potentially cause the loss of 100 lives or more, or disrupt 5,000 people or more, or lead to damages of $1 billion or more. The Industry Standard does not include independent grievance mechanisms and allows involuntary resettlement of peoples, both practices that have long been denounced by community and human rights organizations.

The group notes that very few of their submitted recommendations were followed. It calls for an urgent international multi-stakeholders meeting with leading state regulators to determine the next steps, including the commissioning of an independent study regarding the best model for implementing and regulating a mine tailings standard at a global scale.

KEY FACTS

  • There are thousands of mine waste sites in North America and globally (see infographic)
  • Typical ore grades mined range from 0.0001% to 30%; the remaining is mine waste material
  • Since 2010, there has been:
    • over 100 billion litres of mine waste spilled in 71 known failures
    • over 2,100 km of waterways damaged
    • 482 known deaths 

QUOTES

“The massive mine waste spill that killed hundreds of people in Brumadinho in 2019 was not an accident. It was criminal negligence. After 19 years of community activism on mining, social, and environmental issues here in Minas Gerais, Brazil, I can say with confidence that this Global Industry Standard is unfortunately too weak and will not end mine waste disasters. It will only serve to perpetuate poor practices.” – Maria Teresa Corujo, Movement for the Mountains and Waters of Minas Gerais (Brazil)

“We’ve seen the disasters of Mount Polley Mine and other failures worldwide grossly impacting Indigenous communities, neighboring communities and the land and watersheds they protect. The free, prior and informed consent of local communities is essential to improving the safety of mine tailings storage." – Loretta Williams, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (Canada)

“We are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2014 Mount Polley mine waste disaster, here on Quesnel Lake. And despite clear evidence of impacts to the community and the water, the company is walking scott-free without any government sanction with no obligation towards those impacted. This needs to change.” – Christine McLean, Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake (Canada)

“The Global Industry Standard is too flexible and vague, it leaves too much room for industry self-regulation, lacks specific requirements for best practices, and has no enforcement mechanisms. We fear it will act as a smokescreen behind which the industry can continue business as usual.” – Dr. Bruno Milanez, Research Group on Politics, Economy, Mining, Environment and Society, Juiz de Fora Federal University (Brazil)

“Safety is not explicitly stated as the guiding principle in the Global Industry Standard. The document acknowledges mining companies should take responsibility and “prioritize” safety, but does not actually require that safety takes precedence over economic and other considerations.” – Dr. Dave Chambers, Center for Science in Public Participation

“In almost every area, the Global Industry Standard essentially chose the least common denominator of existing tailings regulations and guidance documents. It is therefore effectively less protective of people and the environment than many other existing documents." – Dr. Steven Emerman, Malach Consulting (USA)

“The 16 guidelines put forward in the Safety First Guidelines represent a line in the sand that communities harmed by tailings disasters have drawn: not one more failure.  It is therefore disappointing that the industry standards released today do not fully respond to the needs of people at risk of future tailings dam disasters. Voluntary initiatives and self-monitoring have never been enough to protect human rights and they never will be.” – Tara Scurr, Amnesty International (Canada)

"We are calling for establishing an independent international tailings dams monitoring organisation. Such a body should be empowered to receive from national governments lists of the tailings dams of greatest concern in their countries, receive relevant safety/stability reports, if they determine necessary inspect them, and require of the operating companies specific improvements (including, where necessary, complete removal of the dams and implementation of alternative waste storage arrangements) with legally enforceable penalties for non-compliance.” – Richard Harkinson, London Mining Network (UK)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  International NGOs

Indigenous & community organizations 

  • Maria Teresa Corujo, Movement for the Mountains and Waters of Minas Gerais (Brazil), [email protected], +55 24 99 991 2423
  • Loretta Williams, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (Canada), [email protected], +1 (250) 267-4373
  • Christine McLean, Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake (Canada), [email protected], +1 (250) 620-3639
  • Allen Edzerza, BC First Nations Energy & Mining Council (FNEMC), [email protected], +1 (604) 347-5988 

Scientists

  • Dr. Bruno Milanez, Research Group on Politics, Economy, Mining, Environment and Society, Juiz de Fora Federal University (Brazil),  [email protected], + 55 32 99123-3624 (Mobile) 
  • Dr. Steven Emerman, Malach Consulting (USA), [email protected], +1 (801) 921-1228
  • Dr. Dave Chambers, Centre for Science in Public Participation (USA), [email protected], +1 (406) 585-9854