Environmental organisation GRID-Arendal and the UN Environmental Program have launched a publicly accessible global database of mine tailings storage facilities. The database, the Global Tailings Portal, was built as part of the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, and allows users to view information on more than 1700 tailings dams, categorised by location, company, dam type, height, volume and risk, among other factors. Tailings comprise the mining industry’s liquid and solid waste, typically stored in embankments called tailings dams which are known to fail, with consequences for communities, wildlife and ecosystems. The initiative is backed by funds with more than US$13 trillion ($19.2 trillion) under management. Professor Elaine Baker from the University of Sydney School of Geosciences, also Director of GRID-Arendal, was present as the database was launched at Westminster Abbey, London.
“This portal could save lives. Tailings dams are getting bigger and bigger. Mining companies have found most of the highest-grade ores and are now mining lower-grade ones, which create more waste. With this information, the entire industry can work towards reducing dam failures in the future,” said Professor Baker. The release of the portal coincides with the one-year anniversary of the tailings dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil, which killed 270 people. In response, a group of investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked 726 mining companies to disclose details about their tailings dams. The information released by the companies has been incorporated into the database.
“Most of this information has never before been publicly available. This database brings a new level of transparency to the mining industry, which will benefit regulators, institutional investors, scientific researchers, local communities, the media and the industry itself,” said Kristina Thygesen, GRID-Arendal’s program leader for geological resources and a member of the team that worked on the portal. GRID-Arendal commenced researching mine tailings dams in 2016 and discovered that little data was accessible. It was in a 2017 report published by GRID and the UN Environment Program that a recommendation was made for establishing an accessible public-interest database of tailings storage facilities.
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