Washington, D.C., May 18 — Today Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ-3) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) sent a letter to the directors of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) urging them to act on the lessons of the Mount Polley mine waste disaster, and take immediate action to investigate threats posed by mine waste dams and impoundments in the United States.
In the wake of the August 2014 Mount Polley mine waste disaster in Canada which released roughly 24.4 million cubic meters of mine waste into the Fraser River watershed, a government-commissioned independent investigative panel determined that current global standard practice for mine waste disposal is fundamentally flawed and that future failures at other mines are simply a matter of time. To date, U.S. regulators have taken no action to assess the risks posed by mines in the U.S.
“Mining operations shouldn’t be given a blank check to pile waste until it overflows or safety measures fail,” said Representative Raul Grijalva, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. He continued, “That goes double for mines on public land, where we have dangerously little information about risks to public health and the environment. We need to make sure we don’t have a repeat of the Mount Polley disaster, in Arizona or anywhere else in this country.”
“The best available science now warns that business as usual for mining means more mine waste catastrophes. That's unacceptable,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks. “To protect clean water, communities and the environment, we need regulators in the United States to act on the lessons learned from the Mount Polley mining disaster.”
The government-commissioned, independent investigation into the Mount Polley dam failure concluded that the dam design was at fault, that one of the most globally common forms of mine waste disposal was fundamentally flawed, and predicted that an estimated 2 additional tailings dam failures could occur every 10 years in British Columbia alone, if business continues as usual.
Mine waste tailings dams, which rank among the largest man made structures in the world, must stand in perpetuity. Yet there is no federal agency in the U.S., nor global entity, responsible for oversight of tailings dam safety. The few tailings dam safety and construction requirements that exist were developed from those intended for water retention dams, not for mine tailings dams.
Tailings are the waste byproduct from the processing of mineral ore. Tailings include finely ground rock and chemicals, some of which are toxic. There are 839 mine tailings dams in the United States according the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Mining companies worldwide use Knight-Piésold, the engineering firm that designed and built the tailings dam that failed at Mount Polley.