Brazil bans upstream mining after dam failure

February 19, 2019

In the wake of the deadly tailing’s dam collapse on Jan. 25, Brazil’s government banned new upstream mining dams on Feb. 18 and ordered the decommissioning of all such dams by 2021, targeting the type of structure that burst last month in the town of Brumadinho and killed at least 169 people, CBC News reported.

Those dams, which hold mining byproducts, are cheaper to build but present higher security risks because their walls are constructed over a base of muddy mining waste rather than on solid ground.

In January, one such dam operated by miner Vale SA , the world's largest iron ore miner, collapsed, unleashing a wave of mud that bulldozed nearby structures.

The death toll in that collapse had risen to 169 people as of Sunday night, with 141 people yet to be located.

The move by Brazil's mining regulator, which would affect 50 upstream mining dams in Brazil's mining heartland of Minas Gerais state alone, is the strongest governmental response yet to the disaster.

The new regulation orders mining companies to present independently produced decommissioning plans by August and ensure that those plans are executed by 2021.

"In this way, [Agência Nacional de Mineração (ANM)] proposes some measures that will safeguard the Brazilian society from possible ruptures of these structures, allowing mining to continue playing a vital role for the development of society and the many mining municipalities that we have in the country," Brazil’s mining agency said in a statement.

Vale has already said it plans decommission its remaining upstream dams. BHP, the world’s largest mining company which was a joint owner of the Samarco Mine in Brazil where a similar dam failure left 19 people dead has also called for action.

BHP chief executive officer Andrew Mackenzie urged peers to create an independent international body in charge of overseeing the construction, integrity and operations of tailings dams, which storage mining waste, following the second collapse of a dam in Brazil in the past three years.

“As an industry, we now have to redouble our efforts to make sure events like this simply cannot happen,” Mackenzie said Tuesday during a conference call after BHP reported half-year results.

Several mid-level company executives have been arrested in the wake of the Brumadinho disaster, which comes less than four years after a similar deadly collapse at another upstream dam co-owned by Vale and BHP Group.

While Vale has said it considered the Brumadinho dam to be safe, an October 2018 report showed that the company classified the dam as being two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.

Around 200 residents were evacuated from an area near another dam operated by Vale late on Saturday, amid fears that it was structurally weak and could also collapse.


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