Recent events in the news have highlighted the importance of making sure that tailings dams are well-managed at all times to ensure safety and reduce risk. A big part of managing the storage of sludge, slimes and similar wastes, an inevitable by-product of many types of mining, is proper monitoring.
Of course, there are costs attached to the installation and ongoing use of tailings dam monitoring systems, but these must be weighed against the potential threat to human and animal life, environmental damage and production disruptions at the mine.
Damage to, or even the total collapse of, a tailings dam can expose the mine operators to financial and legal liability, and cleanup and repair costs can also be substantial.
The best way to deal with the consequences of a tailings dam failure is to prevent it from happening at all by having adequate management procedures and monitoring systems in place.
A comprehensive tailings dam monitoring system offers two key benefits to mine-operators and the surrounding community:
- Prevention. Intensive, ongoing monitoring of water and sludge levels within a tailings dam, as well as the dam wall and surrounding earthworks, provides engineers and safety staff with useful data. This information helps them spot potential risks and neutralize them before they escalate. The installation and wireless, real-time monitoring of instruments like hydrometers, piezometers, extensometers and contractometers creates a powerful tool in the hands of those tasked with ensuring the safety and productivity of the mine.
- Early Warning System. Even if the unthinkable happens and a tailings dam is damaged (by seismic activity or sudden, heavy rainfall, for example), a proper monitoring system ensures that this will be noticed almost immediately. The alarm can then be raised quickly, giving mine staff and surrounding communities more time to react and take action by blocking or diverting the flow, precautionary evacuations, etc.
Used properly, tailings dam monitoring systems make mines safer places to work at and live near.