Brazil regulator pushes back deadline to close dangerous tailings dams

A dam at Vale’s Corrego do Feijão mine collapsed in January, killing about 300 people. (Image: Screenshot from BBC News video)

Brazil’s mining regulator on Monday extended the deadlines by up to four years for closing many dangerous tailings dams like the one that collapsed in January at a Vale SA facility, killing more than 240 people.

Tailings are the muddy waste produced in mining for iron ore and other minerals. The waste is often contained within a dam built using a variety of methods.

The so-called upstream type of dam is considered the most dangerous as is most susceptible to liquid seeping under the dam and weakening the structure, as authorities believe happened in the Vale disaster in the town of Brumadinho.

The country’s National Mining Agency (ANM) had previously banned construction of new upstream dams in February in response to the disaster. It had also called for such structures still in use to be deactivated by 2021 and fully closed down by 2023.

But under a new regulation published in the government’s official gazette on Monday, the larger upstream dams will now have until 2025 or 2027 to be completely shut down in a process known as decharacterization. Smaller dams had their deadline moved up to 2022.

All upstream dams in operation must still be deactivated in 2021, however, meaning no new tailings can be added to the dams.

ANM gave no explanation for the change in deadlines and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(By Jake Spring; Editing by Tom Brown)

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