This week, residents of a small town in Canada are being warned not to drink from the local water supply because of a ruptured tailings dam at a former copper mine in Newfoundland. Yes, another tailings dam has failed.
It's a stark reminder of the risks of the proposed Pebble Mine, where the mining corporations want to build tailings dams, which must be managed in perpetuity, to store up to 10 billion tons of toxic mine waste at the headwaters of our nation's most valuable wild salmon fishery.
The mining industry says that current technology can prevent failures. But the science doesn't support their claims. A recent report has determined that in the ten years since there was a major effort to investigate tailings dams (ICOLD 2001), the failure rate has remained relatively constant – at one failure every eight months. These dam failures are not limited to old technology or to countries with scant regulation. Previous research points out that most tailings dam failures occur at operating mines, and that 39% of the tailings dam failures worldwide occur in the United States, significantly more than in any other country.
Alaska's Bristol Bay supplies roughly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon, and supports 14,000 jobs. This is a renewable resource that will continue to provide food and jobs for our nation as long as the fishery is protected. There is no data to demonstrate that tailings dams can withstand the test of time for mine waste storage in perpetuity. Bristol Bay is the wrong place to try.