EARTHWORKS

Report from the field: Tailings dam fails at silver mine in Turkey

Payal Sampat's avatar
By Payal Sampat

May 11, 2011


Google Earth image of the Kutahya area BEFORE the tailings dam breach. The tailings impoundment with three interior walls is at left.


Closeup of the Kutahya tailings impoundment after the breaches. Credit: Hasan G kvardar.

KUTAHYA, Turkey, May 10 Experts are urging residents near a silver mine in Western Turkey to evacuate after the failure of a dam holding back 15 million cubic meters of cyanide-laced mining waste. Heavy rain expected for the next three days could cause the dam to collapse, sending a river of deadly waste toward drinking water supplies and the Black Sea.

The dam, part of the mine operated by Eti Silver Corporation, failed Saturday, once again underscoring the inherent danger in dumping toxic mining waste in pools held back by dams. Hasan G kvardar, a mining engineer who is working with non-government organizations in the region to assess the situation, provided this firsthand report and accompanying photos:

Kutahya silver mine is one of the biggest silver leaching plants of the world. Cyanide leaching is being used to recover silver from the ore. Three large-capacity paddocks are used to dump the waste from the mine.

Although the government states that there is no risk for the environment, the villagers around the dam site are in panic and waiting anxiously the results. But the organization of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) have issued warnings about the risk and the harmful effects of the spill and emphasize the probable risks of the similar tailings dams taking place in different gold plants in Turkey.

The incident is very new and different NGOs will be investigating the spill in the following days. Cyanide and heavy metals pollution is a chemical disaster for the region. The company states that they are going to reconstruct a new embankment to stop the spill, but this is not a viable solution.

The recent dam breach in Turkey is one of several accidents at mines and smelters within EEC countries in recent years, including a red sludge deluge into the Danube in Hungary in October 2010, and cyanide spills in Turkey, Greece and Spain in the last decade. In 2000, a tailings dam rupture at Romania s Baia Mare mine released 100,000 tons of cyanide-tinged wastes into the Tisza river, poisoning drinking water and decimating aquatic life.

Tagged with: turkey, tailings dam, silver, kutayha, failure, cyanide

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