Tailings database key step towards safer mining dams

Published on: 29 January 2020

APG among participants of Global Mining and Tailings Safety Init


What is needed to make tailings dams at mining sites safer? On the anniversary of the Brumadinho disaster - last weekend a year ago - an investor initiative launched a tailings dams database as part of an ambitious program to prevent such tragedies in the future.

The database contains information on a total of 1,939 dams. The total current volume of tailings stored in disclosed facilities is 45.7 billion cubic meters, which is equivalent to the volume of over 11,400 Wembley Stadiums. Figures for the number of tailings dams globally are unknown, with estimates varying between 4,000 and 18,000. Only a small proportion of these are currently in use.


Investor coalition

In recent years, there have been a number of tragic incidents with mine waste storage facilities – known as tailings dams. In January 2019, a tailings dams near the Brazilian town of Brumadinho gave way, causing the death of 270 people. ‘Brumadinho’ led to the formation of a coalition of investors headed up by the Church of England. APG, on behalf of its pension fund clients, participates in this Global Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative.


Good start

“The number of tailings dams included in the database is admittedly still quite small”, says Ileana van Hagen, Senior Portfolio Manager Credits at APG Asset Management, who represents APG and its clients at the Initiative . “However, it is a good start and establishes what we as an investor expect from mining companies.” One encouraging fact is that 40 of the 50 largest mining concerns have already provided data to feed the database. Ileana: “The challenge now is to get the smaller mining companies on board as well.”


Satellite monitoring

The database allows users to see information about the tailings facilities owned by a company, including previously identified stability issues and potential severity of consequences in the event of a failure. Future updates to the database are expected to include integration of satellite data and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify further tailings dams and monitor ‘leaching’ of tailings materials – an indicator of possible instability.


Alert system

In addition to the database, the Initiative announced its intention to arrive at a ‘24/7 tailings alert system’. Such a system would be similar to those in the shipping and aviation industries and alert local authorities and companies in the case of safety concerns. A further call was made to companies to urgently identify the most dangerous dams so that these can be removed.


Global standard

The Initiative has been instrumental in bringing together mining companies, industry experts and investors. “It is encouraging that in the 10 months since its inception, the Initiative has already yielded tangible results, including the creation of a global standard for tailings dams safety and management, which will be launched in April. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that dams are safe, so that tragic events like ‘Brumadinho’ will not repeat.”