UN, ICMM set global tailings safety protocol

Tailings dam breaches are an ongoing environmental risk. Image: Vale

The International Council on Mining and Minerals (ICMM) and the United Nations (UN) have introduced a set of global standards to safely manage mine tailings.

Along with the Principles of Responsible investment, the UN and the ICMM undertook a “global tailings review” to represent government, industry and investor stakeholders.

After more than a year of development, the global tailings review has established standards to stop tailings dams failures, allowing mine operators to develop safe practices for planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure and post-closure of tailings.

“These dams are some of the largest human-made structures on the planet and require careful ongoing management,” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation professor of marine science Elaine Baker, who oversaw development of the new standards, said.

“While large-scale failures of tailings dams are uncommon, when they do occur, they can be catastrophic for downstream communities and the environment.”

According to Baker, tailings dam management also requires a higher level of consultation.

“The differences between the global standard and many existing standards for tailings dam management include provisions for greater consultation from the outset with potentially affected communities,” she said.

“It also includes increased independent engineering oversight at all stages of tailings management; more transparent mine operator accountability; increased public access to consequence of failure information; and an increased standard of reporting.

“These initiatives represent a system-wide change in tailings management.”

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