Another Iron Waste Dam Collapses in Brazil

Brazil’s mining company Vale has had its second iron tailings dam collapse in the last four years. An iron tailing dam burst on Friday. There are forty confirmed dead and about 200 people are missing.

Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais state, said by now most recovery efforts will entail pulling out bodies.

The flow of waste reached the nearby community of Vila Ferteco and an occupied Vale administrative office. It buried buildings to their rooftops and an extensive field of the mud cut off roads.

Brazil’s Attorney General Raquel Dodge promised to investigate the mining dam collapse, saying “someone is definitely at fault.” Dodge noted there are 600 mines in the state of Minas Gerais alone that are classified as being at risk of rupture.

Tailings, also called mine dumps, culm dumps, slimes, tails, refuse, leach residue or slickens, terra-cone are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore. Tailings are distinct from overburden, which is the waste rock or other material that overlies an ore or mineral body and is displaced during mining without being processed.

On November, 2015, the Bento Rodrigues iron ore tailings dam failed and destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues and killed 19 people.

The failure of the Bento Rodrigues dam has been described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history. Around 60 million cubic meters of iron waste flowed into the Doce River, causing toxic brown mudflows to pollute the river and beaches near the mouth when they reached the Atlantic Ocean 17 days later. The disaster sparked a humanitarian crisis as hundreds were displaced and cities along the Doce River suffered water shortages.

Huge Amounts of Mined Materials Mean Huge Amounts of Waste

The World mines about 2 billion tons of iron every year and nearly 8 billion tons of coal. There is waste water with toxic metals from the mining process and there is sludge and solid wastes from the mining and from the processing. There are thousands of waste and toxic materials in ponds and landfills.

The world has been using coal, iron and steel for 200 years. Almost none of the waste has been remediated.

Mining for Industry, Energy and Transporation

Six hundreds 5 megawatt offshore wind turbines are needed to equal a single 1-gigawatt nuclear reactor. Wind has less operating load factor 30% versus 90%. The wind is not always blowing, but nuclear reactions are always happening).
Oil platform size: dimensions of the platform are 103 x 99 meters.
Wind rotor diameters are about 90-100 meters for the 4-6 MW turbines. So wind rotor diameters are about the same width as an oil platform.

Nuclear power plants built in the 1970’s used 40 metric tons of steel, and 190 cubic meters of concrete for each megawatt of average capacity.

Modern wind energy systems, with good wind conditions, take 460 metric tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt.

Modern central-station coal plants take 98 metric tons of steel and 160 cubic meters of concrete —almost double the material needed to build nuclear power plants.

Solar has a higher carbon footprint with 30-100 grams CO2e/kWh versus 17 grams/kWh for nuclear.. Fossil fuel is at about 800 grams per kWh.

A lot more steel and cement is needed for solar power to generate the same amount of energy as nuclear.

Solar and wind use up 5,000 times more land and 10 – 15 times more concrete, cement, steel, and glass, than are required than for nuclear plants. Solar panels create 200 – 300 times more hazardous waste than nuclear.

Top Iron Producing Countries

1. Australia
Usable ore: 880 million tonnes; iron content: 545 million tonnes

2. Brazil
Usable ore: 440 million tonnes; iron content: 280 million tonnes

The second-largest iron-producing country is Brazil, where usable iron ore production totaled 440 million tonnes in 2017. Vale (NYSE:VALE) achieved record production again in 2017, with 366.5 million tonnes of iron ore produced.

3. China
Usable ore: 340 million tonnes; iron content: 210 million tonnes

China is the world’s largest consumer of iron ore, despite being only the third-largest iron-producing country last year. Its production decreased slightly, dropping from 348 million tonnes in 2016 to 340 million tonnes in 2017. According to Statista, Chinese production has fallen since March of this year.

In 2017, the country’s iron ore imports increased by roughly 5 percent compared with the previous year, reaching 1.08 billion tonnes

4. India
Usable ore: 190 million tonnes; iron content: 120 million tonnes

5. Russia
Usable ore: 100 million tonnes; iron content: 60 million tonnes

6. South Africa
Usable ore: 68 million tonnes; iron content: 39 million tonnes

7. Ukraine
Usable ore: 63 million tonnes; iron content: 39 million tonnes

8. Canada
Usable ore: 47 million tonnes; iron content: 29 million tonnes

9. United States
Usable ore: 46 million tonnes; iron content: 29 million tonnes

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, and sometimes other elements. In 2017, total world crude steel production was 1,691.2 million tonnes (Mt). The biggest steel producing country is currently China, which accounted for 49.2% of world steel production in 2017.

There is 150 tonnes of metallurgical coal via steel in an onshore windmill – and 250 tonnes of coal in an offshore one.

The world is using about 7.5 billion tons of coal per year.

Oilsand Tailing Ponds in Canada

The sheer size and scope of Alberta’s some 20 oil sands tailings ponds is unprecedented for any industry in the world. One of these ponds — the Mildred Lake Settling Basin — is the world’s largest dam by volume of construction material. Since oilsands mining operations started in 1967, 1.3 trillion liters of fluid tailings has accumulated in these open ponds on the Northern Alberta landscape. This is enough toxic waste to fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Unlike tailings produced from conventional hard rock mining, the solids in oilsands tailings will take centuries to settle to the bottom of the ponds. As a result, it is impossible to dewater the waste for timely reclamation without significant intervention.

Coal Ash Dumps and Sludge Dams

Duke Energy has had several dam breaches and coal ash spills in recent years.

Coal ash is a toxic waste formed from burning coal in power plants to make electricity. It is the second largest industrial waste stream in the USA,.coal ash is linked to the country’s four leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and stroke.

Hundreds of contaminated sites and spills have been documented among the 1,400+ coal ash waste dumps across the country. In 2012, the EPA reported that at least 535 coal ash ponds currently operate without a liner to prevent hazardous chemicals from reaching drinking water sources.

There have been 208 known contaminations and spills. Coal combustion waste sites have contaminated groundwater, wetlands, and rivers.

There are 82 high risk and 250 significant risk coal ash ponds. The hazard ratings refer to the potential for loss of life or damage if there is a dam failure.

Coal waste dumps contain billions of gallons of fly ash and other coal waste containing toxic heavy metals, which the EPA considers a threat to water supplies and human health. However, they are not subject to federal regulation, and there is little monitoring of their impacts on the local environment.

The EPA reclassified fly ash from waste to a reusable material in the 1980s. The agency exempted ash from regulations for hazardous waste beginning in 1993. In 2001, the EPA said it wanted to set a national standard for ponds or landfills used for the disposal of coal waste. However, the agency has yet to act, and coal ash ponds are currently subject to less regulation than landfills accepting household trash, despite the tens of thousands of pounds of toxic heavy metals stored in ash ponds across the U.S. State regulations vary, but most ash ponds are unlined and unmonitored.