J Hazard Mater 2008 Apr 22;152(2):846-52. Epub 2007 Jul 22.
CSIC-Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, Zaragoza, Spain.
A detailed search and re-evaluation of the known historical cases of tailings dam failure was carried out. A corpus of 147 cases of worldwide tailings dam disasters, from which 26 located in Europe, was compiled in a database. This contains six sections, including dam location, its physical and constructive characteristics, actual and putative failure cause, sludge hydrodynamics, socio-economical consequences and environmental impacts. Europe ranks in second place in reported accidents (18%), more than one third of them in dams 10-20 m high. In Europe, the most common cause of failure is related to unusual rain, whereas there is a lack of occurrences associated with seismic liquefaction, which is the second cause of tailings dam breakage elsewhere in the world. Moreover, over 90% of incidents occurred in active mines, and only 10% refer to abandoned ponds. The results reached by this preliminary analysis show an urgent need for EU regulations regarding technical standards of tailings disposal.