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One year on from Brumadinho, public database of TSFs launched

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Mining & Resources / Tailings Storage Facilities

One year on from Brumadinho, public database of TSFs launched

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Church of England TSF Initiative - Decipher - Tailings Storage Facility - tailings management - tailings dam monitoring - environmental monitoring software - environmental obligations software - tailings storage facility software


The Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, a group of investors co-headed by the Church of England (CoE) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), on Friday launched the first public database on tailing storage facilities (TSF). The group, made up of 110 institutions that manage $14 trillion worth of assets, launched the database on the first anniversary of Brazil’s Brumadinho disaster, in which 270 people died when a tailings dam burst.

Until now, there has been no central database detailing the location and quantity of the mining industry’s liquid and solid waste, known as tailings. The waste is typically stored in embankments called tailings dams, which have previously failed with devastating consequences for communities, wildlife and ecosystems.

The new database will now allow users to view detailed information on more than 1,700 tailings dams, categorized by location, company, dam types, height, volume and risk, among other factors.

Professor Elaine Baker from the School of Geosciences is the director of the GRID-Arendal office and has been a driving force in the foundation of the database.

“This portal could save lives,” said Professor Baker.

“Tailings dams are getting bigger and bigger. Mining companies have found most of the highest-grade ores and are now mining lower-grade ones, which create more waste. With this information, the entire industry can work towards reducing dam failures in the future.”

Kristina Thygesen, GRID-Arendal’s program leader for geological resources and also a member of the team who worked on the portal, stated that most of this information has never before been publicly available.

When GRID-Arendal began in-depth research on mine tailings dams in 2016, very little data was accessible. In a 2017 report on tailings dams, co-published by GRID and the UNEP, one of the key recommendations was to establish an accessible public-interest database of TSFs.

“This database brings a new level of transparency to the mining industry, which will benefit regulators, institutional investors, scientific researchers, local communities, the media and the industry itself,” Ms Thygesen said.

According to the disclosed data, the current tailing volume is around 45.7 billion cubic meters but is expected to increase by 25 per cent to 56.6 billion.

Professor Baker said there were only 10 tailings dams from China included in the database because of a lack of response from Chinese companies.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in China in terms of the number of tailings storage facilities,” she said.

ICMM remembers Brumadinho

“On the anniversary of the devastating tragedy at Brumadinho, we remember those who lost their lives and those whose lives will forever more be impacted by loss suffered on that day.

“Since July 2019, I have led the Global Tailings Review (GTR) which was co-convened by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in response to this tragedy.  Our mission is to establish an international standard for the safer management of tailings facilities with the ultimate goal of preventing another such event.

“A draft Standard, which was the culmination of an initial research phase, was shared globally for public consultation in November 2019. With the consultation conducted online in seven languages, and through in-person consultation in Kazakhstan, China, Chile, Ghana, South Africa and Australia, many constructive and helpful insights were received from a wide variety of stakeholders. We are currently in the process of analysing the comprehensive feedback received and balancing diverse stakeholder views to strengthen the Standard.

“The first anniversary is a strong reminder of the importance of our work and we remain highly motivated to create a product that will deliver a step change in the safe management of tailings facilities across the industry.”

Where to from here?

The investor group also used Friday’s event to call for the creation of a new global alert system for tailing dams and further work to identify and close the world’s most dangerous structures.

Earlier this week, dam owner Vale announced it was allocation ZAR $24.1b ($16.8b) for reparation costs and indemnities. On the same day, the former chief executive of Vale Fabio Schvartsman was charged with homicide by prosecutors for his role in the dam disaster.

Angelica Amanada Andrada, whose sister was killed in the Brumadinho disaster, reiterated the importance of dealing with dam tailings. She said: “We can no longer allow disasters like Brumadinho to happen again. It is unacceptable that death and mass destruction have been happening due to the irresponsibility, negligence and deception of mining companies.”

Investors have committed to carrying out further interventions, including establishing a global alert system and a mechanism to remove the most dangerous dams.

The Church of England’s pension board director for ethics and engagement and co-chair of the Global Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative Adam Matthews said: “We have established a global database but today we call for the creation of a global 24/7 independent alert system for all tailings dams.”

“Much more needs to still be done and removal of the most dangerous dams has to also be the immediate priority. We must ensure that the voices of those communities impacted by this disaster continue to inform our response.”

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FAQ:

What is the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative?

Following the recent tailings dam failures, The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative was established by a group of institutional investors active in the extractive industries representing more than $13.1 trillion in assets under management. Governed through a Steering Committee chaired by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council of Ethics of the AP Funds, the group has called upon 727 extractive mining companies to disclose information in relation to their tailings storage facilities to form an online database.

How many companies have disclosed information about their TSFs?

As of the 20th of December 2019, 46 per cent of companies contacted responded to the request. 40 of the top 50 mining companies have made disclosures which has resulted in information about thousands of individual tailings dams being made public on company websites. All 23 of 23 publicly owned companies that are members of the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) responded and fully disclosed information about their TSFs.

How many tailings dams have had stability issues?

Company disclosures to investors have revealed that 10% (166 out of 1,635) of the tailings dams reported to have had stability issues in their history.


 

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