The world has learned that Hungary declared a state of emergency in thee counties on Tuesday following the collapse of a tailings dam at an alumina plant. Reports stated that approximately 700,000 m³ of reddish slurry swept cars off roads, damaged bridges, engulfed homes and caused perhaps 400 residents to flee. Over 100 people were missing, and some are presumed dead.
The area has had weeks of heavy rain, and that undoubtedly contributed to the spill. Clean up costs are estimated at US$51 million and may take as long as a year. If the spill is not contained, the tailings will make their way into the Danube River.
You can get a feeling for the size of the disaster by watching the video posted on YouTube, www.YouTube.com/watch?v=1ZdsrYYLxIs&feature=player_embedded#
The uncontrolled outpouring of tailings is a catastrophe never far from the minds of responsible mine operators. Even their best efforts are sometimes not enough. In Papua New Guinea, the dam at the Ok Tedi gold mine failed sending cyanide-laden material into the local river. A similar occurrence befell the Los Frailes base metal mine in Spain. The dam at the old Matachewan mine in Ontario overflowed 20 years ago.
Such problems can occur anywhere. Maybe now is a good to for every mine manager to have a close look at tailings management at his or her mine. Better to spot potential problems and correct them before they happen than be liable for the mess afterwards.