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Leading mining companies adopt new measures to manage tailings dams

5 December 2016

Today, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) announced a new agreement that will bind its 23 member companies to further improve the management of mine tailings1 throughout their global operations.

ICMM, which drives sustainable development in the mining industry, announced that it would conduct a global tailings management review in December 2015, in the aftermath of the tailings dam failure at Samarco in Brazil that tragically resulted in the loss of 19 lives.

To conduct this work, ICMM commissioned a review by recognised tailings specialists with oversight by an expert panel, and also drew on the technical expertise of ICMM’s member companies and associations. The review report2, also published today, focused on surface tailings management across the ICMM membership, including a review of standards and governance.

The review has concluded that an increased emphasis on governance is needed to ensure that the extensive existing technical and management guidance is more effectively applied.

As a result, ICMM has issued a new position statement3 that commits members to minimise the risk of catastrophic failures of tailings dams by adopting six key elements of management and governance.

The position statement has been unanimously endorsed by all CEOs of ICMM member companies.

Tom Butler, ICMM’s CEO said: “ICMM and its members are committed to drive safety and environmental improvements in the industry. After the tragic failure of the Samarco tailings dam, we had to determine how we could best help to minimise the risk of the recurrence of such a catastrophic event.

“We were determined to take action at the global level and all of our member companies have adopted this new binding agreement. We hope that non-member companies will also consider adopting this framework in order to help enhance the whole industry’s performance.”

Dirk van Zyl, a member of the expert panel that was constituted for the review, said: “I am delighted that as a result of the review, CEOs of the world’s 23 leading mining companies committed to a new ICMM framework on how to further enhance the safe management of tailings dams.

“The review did not cover how or why the Samarco tailings dam failed, but takes lessons from the tragic event as well as from other tailing dam failures. It finds that a higher level of governance and assurance is key to confirming existing safety standards are implemented consistently.”

Terry Eldridge, Senior Project Reviewer at Golder Associates, said: “I hope that this report will be widely read, not just by ICMM members, but by the mining industry as whole so we can continually improve the safety of the industry”.

Notes for editors

  1. Tailings are the solid material and waste water that remain after metals and minerals have been extracted from mined ore. The physical and chemical characteristics of the tailings vary with the nature of the ore, its geological setting and the climate where the tailings are placed.  Tailings are most commonly stored in surface ponds which are often dammed due to the high liquid content of the tailings.
  1. The review report: ‘Tailings management practices and recommendations for improvement’ is available at: www.icmm.com/tailings-report
    The report was produced by Golder Associates, an independent employee-owned organisation with over 50 years of experience in the consulting, design and construction services.
  1. Position statements are the most substantial expression of ICMM member company commitments to actions, as they are mandatory and binding on all members. The adoption of a position statement on this subject illustrates the critical importance that all ICMM members place on this issue. ICMM’s new Position Statement on Preventing Catastrophic Failure of Tailings Storage Facilities is available here.

Interview requests and further information

Tom Butler is available for broadcast interviews by prior request.

Please contact Mike Eames on +44 (0) 20 7467 5598 or email Mike.Eames@icmm.com