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Expert to start work on new standards for mining dam safety
June 11, 2019

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) in conjunction with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and ethical investors’ body the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), is working on new standards for tailings dams and has turned to an environmental expert to help craft the new guidelines.

Bruno Oberle, a former Swiss minister who worked for Switzerland’s environment agency, said the ICMM had picked someone outside the industry to oversee the initiative. Oberle was scheduled to make a fact-finding trip to the site of the Vale dam disaster in Brazil to start work on setting new dam safety standards for miners.

The safety of tailings dams gained prominence after the collapse of Vale’s dam at Brumadinho, Brazil in January that killed about 250 people. It was the second Vale tailings dam collapse in Brazil in less than four years.

“The major difference between this and previous reviews is its independence,” Oberle said of ICMM’s current approach, adding that he was appointed to chair the review with backing of the ICMM, UNEP and PRI.

He said the issue required a broad approach, with thousands of dams across the world and no comprehensive data base.

Oberle said he would draw on information from the biggest miners, which have started publishing information about their dams in response to calls from ethical investors.

He said he would begin with research, starting at Brumadinho and involving meeting communities living near tailings facilities and evaluating best practices. This would be followed by consultations with various stakeholders, he said.

Oberle said he would then draw up standards to be published together with a report early in 2020.

“This review will not just set an international standard for tailings storage facilities but I will also consider the governance of the standard, how to encourage its adoption by industry and ongoing compliance,” he said.

The new requirements will become mandatory for the 26 members of the ICMM, which include miners such as BHP, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Glencore and Vale.

Reuters reported that Mining firms also say they are addressing the issue. BHP has set up a tailings task force after a dam owned by its Samarco venture with Vale burst in 2015.

 

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