Dangers of Mine Tailings Dam Failure

What is mudflow?

Mudflow is the flow of water that contains large amounts of suspended particles and silt… They may rush down a mountainside at speeds as great as 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour and can cause great damage to life and property.”

Mudflows are caused by earthquakes, heavy rains, explosions, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Mudflows also happen when mine tailings or mine dumps give way due to heavy rains as its pipes and walls fail to contain its toxic contents.

Mudflow from mine tailings dam failures do not only happen to big mining companies, this catastrophe also happens to small-scale mining businesses that have no proper environmental compliance certificates and government-issued permits. Negligence and cost-cutting practices are among the main reasons that cause these man-made disasters.

Heavy rains and mine tailings dams

Heavy rains pose danger to mine tailings dams. Dave Chambers, an engineer and geophysicist at the Center for Science in Public Participation told Frontline that “the most common failure mechanism of mine tailings dams is related to hydrologic events — that is large storms that basically overwhelm the storm retaining capacities that the dam was designed for.”

Impact on the environment

The massive environmental impact of mine tailings are widely documented — red, yellow, orange colored waterways, mountains with big gaping holes, and lands flattened by mudflows.

These damages to the environment are irreversible: erosion, formation of sinkholes, contamination of the soil and water and loss of biodiversity.

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