Modern Mining December 2022


Jagersfontein tragedy draws attention to increasing TSF failures The Jagersfontein tragedy that took place in September has shone the spotlight on the increasing rate of tailings dams’ failures and the impact such incidents have on lives, infrastructure and the environment. According to Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), research of all serious tailings failures since 1915 shows that the rate of tailings dam failures since 1915 is increasing with half (33 of 67) of serious tailings dam failures in the last 70 years happening in the 20 years between 1990 and 2009. By Nelendhre Moodley .

A lthough there is no comprehensive global reg istry of tailings dams, it is estimated that there are around 18 000 dams, 3 500 of which are active. If a dam is not active, it is not necessar ily abandoned – it simply means there is no longer active deposition of tailings on the tailings dam. Liefferink explains that the growing rate of tail ings dam failures is increasingly propelled by modern mining practices and factors such as non compliance, the failure to monitor enforcement, and a severe lack of coordination, especially by govern ment stakeholders. “The increasing rate of failures is directly related to the increasing number of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) larger than 5-million cubic metre capacity, which is necessitated by the economic extraction of lower grades of ore. Moreover, Earthworks, recently

released a report which highlights a frightening sta tistic – that 19 catastrophic tailings dam failures are predicted globally from 2018 to 2027.” With the high rate of abandoned mines and mines under liquidation, all of which house TSFs, this predi cation does not bode well for the industry and the communities surrounding mining operations. The country’s long and rich mining history has left a legacy of some 6 000 abandoned mines, with many legally classified as ‘derelict and ownerless. As such, they will require intervention by the state to address safety, health and environmental legacies. According to Liefferink, abandoned mines have considerable negative impacts on the health and safety of local communities and on the environment. Abandoned mines are often associated with open shafts, unstable slopes on dumps and pits,

A view of the tailings piles at Mintails.

(Image courtesy of Mark Olalde)

26  MODERN MINING  December 2022

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