New Standards Aim to Improve Tailings Management Safety
Tailings, mineral waste products produced by mining operations, are a well-known pollutant requiring remediation. However, in recent years some mining companies have developed novel reprocessing technologies to extract valuable metals from the waste. As first described in the post, From Tailings to Treasure? A New Mother Lode, very small diamonds can be recovered from the residue of the original diamond-bearing ore, and the U.S. Geological Survey found that discarded mine tailings may yield significant amounts of rare earth elements.
To accurately identify minerals within tailings, geologists may use analytical technologies including both laboratory and portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instruments. Portable XRF analysers provide fast, accurate analysis of tailings to quickly and easily gauge the efficiency of extraction and enrichment processes. The real-time assay data provided by a portable XRF analyser allows for timely process adjustments and productivity improvements.
In addition to being a potential source of pollutants, another issue regarding tailings management is safety. In an effort to strengthen current best practices around tailings dams in the mining sector, the Global Tailings Review (GTR) has released the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. According to a Mining.com article, the guidelines, established by the United Nations Environment Program, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the International Council on Metals and Mining (ICMM), add new requirements for independent oversight of tailings facilities design and management. They also outline expectations for more disclosure to the public about tailings facilities, including information about the potential consequences of a failure.
The new standard was inspired by the January 2019 upstream dam failure at Vale’s Feijao mine in Brazil, which killed an estimated 259 people. “The catastrophic dam collapse at Vale’s Corrego de Feijao 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,” said Dr. Bruno Oberle, chair of the Global Tailings Review, in a release. “I am particularly pleased to deliver a document which reflects and addresses the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of sound tailings management.”
The standard applies to existing and future tailings facilities, and covers the entire life cycle from site selection through closure. It also noted that to be compliant with the standard, operators must use “specified measures to prevent the catastrophic failure of tailings facilities and to implement best practices in planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure and post closure activities.”