April 14, 2019

“The Legacy of Upstream Tailings Dams”

Matt Fuller, CPG, P.Geo.; Tierra Group International, Ltd.

The mining industry was traumatized by the Feijão tailings dam failure in Minas Gerais (Brumadinho), Brazil on 25 January 2019. The Feijão failure occurred a mere 38 months since the Fundao tailings dam failure (also in Minas Gerais) in November 2015, brought heightened awareness of the inherent risks associated with tailings dams constructed by the “upstream method” to retain conventional “wet” (slurry) tailings. The Fundao and Feijão tailings incidents caused untold negative environmental impacts, more than 200 fatalities and total economic consequences to the mine owners exceeding billions of dollars. This article provides a “layman’s” explanation of the upstream tailings dam construction method, its challenges, and potential consequences. 

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