Mexico’s Largest Mine Threatens Disaster
Grupo México’s BuenaVista del Cobre, is Mexico’s largest mine, extracting 815 tons of rock per day and helping make its owner, Gérman Larrera, the second-richest man in Mexico. The company is in the process of expanding the mine, including its tailings dam, in a project it calls ‘Gran Vision’ or ‘Great Vision’.
With this expansion, the tailings dam will grow to a shocking 10 km long and 175 meters tall, twice as tall as the dam that failed at Brumadinho in Brazil. The dam will sprawl over 33 square km, with a storage capacity equivalent to 816,000 Olympic swimming pools. The first raises of the dam are already in place and mining is predicted to last through 2050.
The BuenaVista del Cobre mine already has a history of environmental disaster. In 2014, Grupo México dumped 40,000 cubic meters of toxic chemicals into the Sonora River. The spill traveled almost 300 km downstream, destroying crops and killing animals. People who came in contact with the water have experienced severe health issues like neurological conditions, rashes, vision problems, and hair loss.
The company was ordered to distribute Mex$2 billion in compensation to families and farmers as well as to create health and water infrastructure, but suspended all payments in 2018. Local communities recently won a lawsuit ordering the company to re-open the fund but are waiting to see how the decision will be implemented.
If the BuenaVista del Cobre tailings dam fails, Bacanuchi will be the first community in its path. Bacanuchi is a small community of less than 200 people about 20 km downstream. Community members are strongly opposed to the expansion of the tailings dam and fear that another disaster could destroy their entire way of life. They are currently fighting to stop the tailings dam expansion.
For More Information
- Preventing Mine Waste Disasters (main Earthworks campaign page)
- Tailings and Disposal
- Community at RIsk
- Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management. Earthworks & MiningWatch Canada, 2020.