What Do Mine Tailings Dam Disasters Teach Us?

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What Do Mine Tailings Dam Disasters Teach Us?

Judith Marshall

Brazilian mining activists invited Judith Marshall to participate in their November 5th commemorations of the anniversary of the tailings dam collapse at the Vale/BHP iron mine in Mariana, Brazil. Marshall was a founding member of the International Network of People Affected by Vale (AV) formed in 2010 while she worked in the Global Affairs Department of the Steelworkers Union. After her retirement, Marshall became an Associate of CERLAC (Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies) at York University where she has continued her collaboration with AV, including comparative studies of the Mariana spill with the tailings dam collapse at Mt. Polley in British Columbia. Below is her message to the event.

So here we are, on November 5th, commemorating the anniversary of the Mariana... tailings dam collapse and dealing with the consequences of the three biggest mining catastrophes in the Americas. Just 14 months before the Mariana crime, the tailings pond collapsed at Mt. Polley, a copper/gold mine in British Columbia province, creating the largest tailings dam collapse in Canadian history. Less than four years after Mariana, Vale’s Brumadinho tailings dam collapsed, creating not only damages to nearby ecosystems but also triggering the worst industrial tragedy in Brazilian history, burying 272 people in toxic muck in a matter of minutes. What are the lessons these collapses can teach?

First, we need to learn that our governments, both in Canada and Brazil, are faithful adherents to the neoliberal world order. Our governments have adopted the mining industry narrative that a mining investment brings jobs and economic growth, that getting a country’s resources onto global markets is the highest good. Our government leaders basically understand their role to be promotion of more investments in mining rather than regulation of mining for the public good and environmental sustainability. They accept the mining industry’s claims of expertise and step back to let mining self-regulate. Our governments give mining companies tax breaks and hydro subsidies.

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