EARTHWORKS

Mine Waste Pollutes More Rivers in Mexico

Shreema Mehta's avatar
By Shreema Mehta

August 27, 2014

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Another image from the Sonora spill, which officials are calling the "worst environmental disaster in the country's mining industry in modern times." Photo credit: Getty

Mexico has been hit hard these past few weeks with two separate mine waste spills. One was a toxic mine spill that occurred two weeks ago in the state of Sonora, which I blogged about here. Here, 10 million gallons of sulfuric acid spilled from the Buenavista copper mine, contaminating two rivers and leaving thousands of people without access to water. Reports also found fish kills and cattle who drank the water dead.

Environmental officials have pressed charges against Buenavista, on violation of waste management laws. The Mexican Senate also passed a nonbonding resolution to cancel the mine's operating concession. Civil society groups are also calling for this cancellation.

Unsurprisingly, the company and government officials dispute the cause of the mine spill. While the company claims heavy rainfall led to an overflow of the containment pond, officials say "lax supervision" and "construction defects" are to blame. Officials also deny Buenavista's claim of heavy rainfall,  saying that no rain fell on August 6, the day of the spill. (Besides, even if rain had fell that day,a responsible waste management program would plan for heavy rainfall and other potential problems.)

As the investigation continued and charges filed, another mine waste spilled occurred just a week later, this time in the Mexican state of Durango, south of Sonora. Rainfall in Durango led to the overflow of nearly half a million gallons of cyanide-laced waste from the tailings dam of Proyecto Magistral, contaminating La Cruz river and killing livestock such as cattle who drank the contaminated water.

The environmental agency Propefa declared an environmental emergency and ordered the mine operators to install membranes in holding ponds and raise the heights of the tailings dams. In addition, the National Commission on Human Rights launched an investigation into the area to research impacts and address grievances of local residents affected by the spill.

The mining industry should look at these back-to-back mine waste spills as a reality check: In the status quo, accidents are a real problem that happen all too regularly. The mining industry needs to clean up its act to reduce these accidents. 

Tagged with: water pollution, tailings, mexico

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