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23 Jan 2023

Andrew Lees Trust (UK)

Campaigners urge investors to put an end to mine tailings dam failures

"Campaigners urge investors to call time on mine tailings dam failures"

Faith groups and NGOs are urging mining giants such as Rio Tinto to comply with international mine tailings dam management standards in order to better protect communities from dam failures. They will lobby investors at today’s Mining 2030 Investor Agenda & Global Tailings Summit, which is being held on the fourth anniversary of the Brumandinho tailings dam disaster , which killed 270 people.

Hosted by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Public Pension Funds, this year’s meeting will focus on launching a Global Tailings Management Institute and promoting the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM). The event is a reminder that large mining companies are yet to make meaningful changes to mine tailings and dam management to improve the lives of downstream communities and protect ecosystems.

“Rio Tinto is not taking its responsibilities for the tailings dam at its QMM ilmenite mine in Madagascar seriously enough” says Yvonne Orengo of British charity the Andrew Lees Trust. “While Rio Tinto boasts its involvement in establishing the GISTM, its QMM mine does not currently adhere to the standard, despite multiple dam failures”. In response to inquiries, Rio Tinto says that QMM will be in compliance with GISTM by August 2023.

The Rio Tinto/QMM mine in Madagascar has experienced four reported dam failures since 2010. Two of these tailings dam failures occurred in 2022 and were followed by the appearance of hundreds of dead fish in downstream lakes. A fishing ban was placed on local communities, exacerbating years of hardship due to the negative impacts of the mine on local water quality and the natural resources upon which they depend for survival. Months of conflict ensued and required intervention from security forces and the Malagasy government. Questioned about the safety of its tailings dam at the QMM mine, the Chair of Rio Tinto Plc told the representative of Jesuit Missions, Colm Fahy, at last year’s company AGM that there were “no tailings” and “no dam” at QMM.

However, QMM is obliged under its agreements with the Malagasy government to build a “berm” 30m wide and 4m high, in order to prevent water flowing from the mine basin into the surrounding environment. The QMM “berm” is therefore a mine tailings dam, even if the company insists on calling it by other names such as a berm, levee, barrier, embankment or retaining wall. It has the performance objective of a dam: to retain mine process wastewater in the mine basin. If it does not do that, it has failed...