Just a week after the Mount Polley disaster, another mine waste spill has occurred, this time from a copper mine in Mexico. About 10 million gallons of acid-laced mine waste spilled from the Buenavista mine into nearby rivers. Water restrictions have been imposed for thousands of people. The spill has also reportedly killed fish and cattle in the area.
A local government official said the spill was the result of a failure in the tailings pond that contained the waste. The same official also said the company, Grupo Mexico, the largest mining company in Mexico and the third-largest producer of copper in the world, delayed in reporting the spill to authorities. The delay in reporting delayed government’s ability to protect communities at risk.
It's too soon to tell what the extent of the damage from this spill will be (and the long-term impacts of the Mount Polley mine as well) but past events show what the people of nearby communities in Sonora will likely face. Mine waste can contain toxins such as mercury, arsenic and cyanide. When spilled into the environment, this waste can kill fish and other aquatic life and contaminate drinking water. Toxics in the waste can bioaccumulate in fish, which are harmful to the humans who eat these fish.
Mine waste dumping in oceans, lakes and rivers is a growing problem around the world. That’s why we wrote a report on the subject called Troubled Waters.
As mining companies come under fire for failures in infrastructure that result in toxic waste spills, it may be difficult to imagine that many mining companies, including some of the world's biggest, routinely dump waste into water bodies as their regular method of disposal. But they do — and communities from all around the world face the consequences.
As we assess the long-term environmental damage, health harms and financial costs of these mine spills, we should also be reminded that many mining companies dump mine waste into water bodies — and not by accident.