WHEN A TAILINGS FACILITY FAILS
When a tailings facility fails, lives are impacted; families are impacted. When a tailings facility fails, the environment suffers; communities can be devastated. When a tailings facility fails, the mining community as a whole suffers. When a tailings facility fails, we are all impacted. When a tailings facility catastrophically fails, there are a lot of questions and very few answers, especially right away. It is best to try to listen to the early-breaking news with a little skepticism. Often, such news comes from non-technical people, and some information can be inaccurate, although eyewitness accounts can be informative. The actual causes of the failure often come out many months after the incident occurs, and even then, opinions can vary. A tailings facility failure is a terrible thing, and nobody involved with the failure can possibly look good, no matter their intentions or actions. People involved in the search and rescue or search and recovery have a very important, but exhausting task of finding survivors and recovering those who have perished. I met a man who was on such a recovery team of a tailings failure that occurred in South Africa. He was giving a presentation to a different mine owner, several years after that failure took place. In the presentation, he had a photograph of himself. He was holding the mud-covered, lifeless body of a small child. He looked directly into the eyes of the meeting’s organizer, and said, “Please Mr. Chairman, do not ever place me into this position again”. The presenter was deeply shaken by the horrible experience, and it shook me to hear his words, and his quivering voice. His point was this: Let’s do the right thing. Let’s don’t save money where money should be wisely spent. Let’s do the right investigations, testing, designing, analyses, construction activities, operations, monitoring, reclamation and closure. Sometimes there are no good words. And sometimes, no words are all there should be. Let our thought of well being be sent out to all those affected, no matter how they are affected.