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Analysis: No reduction in tailings dam failures over the past two decades

In 2019, the Brumadinho tailings disaster in Brazil killed 270 people. (Image courtesy of Vinícius Mendonça | Ibama.)

A newly released assessment of global tailings management facilities (TMFs) data paints a jarring picture showing that relative to global mine production, there has been no improvement in the rate of significant failures, according to watchdog World Mine Tailings Failures (WMTF).

According to data released for the first time on Tuesday, the rate was constant at 0.09 failures per billion tonnes of production in both the decades of 2000-2009 and 2010-2019.

“Including the failures since 2019, the overall failure rate has increased to 0.1,” confirmed the organization’s executive director, Lindsay Newland Bowker, in a statement to The Northern Miner.

“We have lost ground; not made progress in preventing significant failures,” said the executive. “There have been 35 significant failures through December 31, 2021, on an estimated 340 billion tonnes of world mineral production.”

The organization now says it forecasts the worst decade in history for TMF failures.

“Applying that failure rate of 0.1 to the expert-predicted 184.3 billion tonnes of production between 2015 and 2024, we predict the worst decade in recorded history at 18 ‘very serious’ failures. The decade 2010-2019 had only 15 ‘very serious’ failures,” said Newland Bowker.

“As all our published predictions since 2014 have proven accurate, we have confidence in our current prediction of 13 catastrophic failures between 2025 and 2029.”

Newland Bowker said it was the first time the supporting failures data has been presented to inform the industry and public about the critical global situation.