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New global tailings dam standard launched

Miners have been presented with a new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, which was launched in London yesterday and developed in response to Vale’s dam collapse at Brumadinho in January 2019 which killed 270 people.
New global tailings dam standard launched New global tailings dam standard launched New global tailings dam standard launched New global tailings dam standard launched New global tailings dam standard launched

The tailings dam collapse at Brumadinho last year prompted the new standard to be developed. Image: IDF

Staff reporter

The standard contains 15 principles and 77 specific, auditable requirements for operators to adhere to.

Its aims include to "lift the performance bar for designing, constructing, operating, maintaining, monitoring and closing tailings facilities" - however it stopped short of proposing a ban on upstream dams like the one which failed.

"The catastrophic dam collapse at Vale's Córrego de Feijão mine in Brumadinho was a human and environmental tragedy that demanded decisive and appropriate action to enhance the safety and strengthen the governance of tailings facilities across the globe," Global Tailings Review chair Dr Bruno Oberle said.

"It has been a privilege to lead this work and I now call on all mining companies, governments and investors to use the Standard and to continue to work together to improve the safety of tailings facilities globally."

The review was co-convened in March 2019 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) and all three bodies have endorsed it.

PRI, which represents US$103.4 trillion in assets under management, said it would develop investor expectations to support all mining companies in implementing the Standard, while UNEP would support governments wishing to incorporate it into legislation.

ICMM member companies, which represented about a third of the global industry, would implement the Standard as a commitment of membership.

"Members have committed that all facilities with ‘extreme' or ‘very high' potential consequences will be in conformance with the Standard within three years of today, and all other facilities within five years," ICMM CEO Tom Butler said.

Gold major Barrick Gold said it had participated in the process and was quick to voice its support.

Group sustainability executive Grant Beringer said Barrick "fully endorsed the principles embodied in the new standard" as it had long been committed to ensuring that its tailings facilities meet global best practice standards for safety.

Representing PRI, Council on Ethics for the Swedish National Pension Funds secretary general John Howchin said they expected all mining companies to comply with the framework.

"In January 2019 we called for there to be a new industry standard that drives best practice to address the risk of tailings facility failure, and we have been assured by the Global Tailings Review's independent expert panel that if this standard had been in place, the disaster at Brumadinho would not have happened," he said.

Vale has started decommissioning its upstream tailings dams and its facilities are under increased scrutiny in Brazil, with some sites yet to be allowed to resume production and the company tipping it would reach the lower end of production guidance this year.