While we in BC have been preoccupied by the Mt Polley situation, yet another tailings failure has occurred. This time in Mexico. That brings the number of failures this year to three: Duke Energy, Mt Polley, and Cananea. Just the right number if the probability of failure is one in five thousand.
Reporting on the failure is sparse. Here from the Mexico News Daily:
Negligence on the part of a copper mine in Cananea, Sonora, has been blamed for the spill of 40 million litres of copper sulphate into the Sonora River last week.
An earlier report by the environmental agency Profepa said it was sulfuric acid that was released by the Buenavista del Cobre mine, owned by Grupo Mexico. Arturo Rodríguez Abitia, assistant prosecutor of industrial inspection at Profepa, said the copper sulphate will have an environmental impact for its acidity. It is corrosive but will mix with the river water and become diluted and neutralized, he explained.
The tailings pond spill also contained heavy metals in concentrations that exceed health standards but are within those for environmental protection.
Residents of several municipalities are using potable water supplied by the government since their water systems, which draw from the Sonora River as well as the Bacanuchi, another river affected, have turned off the pumps.
Rodríguez said the mine acted in a negligent manner for not having monitored the release of the contents of the tailings pond. He said Profepa will be looking to apply the highest penaly possible, which is about 3 million pesos.
Monitoring of the mining industry is reported to be insufficient because three different agencies are responsible: Profepa, the Environmental and Natural Resources Secretariat (Semarnat), and the Economy Secretariat all have a role to play.
In saying the mine was at fault, Rodríguez said there should be control and emergency systems in place should a toxic spill occur, and the waste materials would be trapped by another pond to avoid being released into the river.
Detection systems to warn of a problem should also be in place.
Local officials said last week that the mine made no attempt to notify authorities of the incident. The water commission was advised by a municipal president.
Another mine in Durango was also faulted, in this case for a cyanide spill. Proyecto Magistral in El Oro released 2 million litres of water containing the compound, but it was reported to have been neutralized.
The Arizona Daily Star fills in a few details:
On Aug. 7, about 10 million gallons of mining acid spilled into the Sonora River, which supplies Hermosillo — Sonora’s capital — and tens of thousands of residents in various towns with drinking water. Sonoran state officials said residents alerted authorities to the spill while Grupo México, the mine’s owner, did not notify the state.
Tucson attorney Jesus Romo, who also lives in Banámichi, one of the affected towns, said the spill portends potential future damage from larger tailing ponds near the river.
“If they burst, it can mean the end of people living along the river,” he said.
The tailing pond that broke was more then 1.4 million cubic feet (40,000 cubic meters), but the others have have billions of cubic feet, he said.
The Sonoran government announced Monday that it has provided about $38,000 to each of the seven municipalities affected by the spill: Arizpe, Banámichi, San Felipe de Jesús, Baviácora, Aconchi, Ures and Hermosillo.
The World Socialist Web Site talks of a spill from a holding tanks, so this may not be a tailings falure after all. Here is what they write:
Over 10 million gallons of toxic wastewater leached from a copper mine near the town of Cananea in northern Mexico spilled into the nearby Bacanuchi River on August 6. Reports indicate that copper waste tailings containing sulfuric acid and heavy metals leaked for more than a day from a holding tank into the river after heavy storms hit the region.
Hopefully we can get more definitive information.
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