So. Africa: Tailing dams emerge as the latest significant environmental risk factor from mining

Author: Tawanda Karombo, Quartz Africa, Published on: 21 January 2020

‘South Africa has the world’s highest number of environmentally dangerous tailing dams’ 16 January 2020

South Africa has the highest number of dangerous tailing dams—structures constructed, often by mining companies, to store waste in liquid form. The dams are considered hazardous if improperly handled and have resulted in environmental disasters and deaths many times around the world. Wider environmental hazards arising out of mining operations in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa, range from river contamination from chemicals used in mining processes to improper rehabilitation of mined out operations. Tailing dams have emerged as the latest significant environmental risk factor from mining and South Africa has the highest number of the riskiest of these, according to an investigative report by Reuters.

…The South African mining companies say they are taking action, with Mark Cutifani, chief executive officer of Anglo American which holds big mining firms in South Africa, saying in 2019 that the company is now working on technologies expected to significantly decrease the volume of waste material produced from mines. These technologies leave less waste, allow for de-watering of tailings and offer energy options as well as water usage reductions.

In South Africa, there are growing calls for the cleaning up of the high risk tailings dams so that the waste can be re-processed and used to fill up mined out operations, thereby reducing environmental hazards. This is an approach that experts believe can help preserve natural water bodies by removing the contaminated tailings material. “We can reduce the volume of waste and the toxicity of waste by using new technology available to us. The old days of closing and grassing over are unsustainable; we need to transition from one form of economic activity directly to another,” says Nikisi Lesufi, senior executive environment, health and legacies at the Minerals Council South Africa.

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Related companies: Anglo American