Swedish Mine Spill Prompts Calls for Stricter EU Law
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, September 11, 2000 (ENS) - A million cubic metres of copper contaminated water was released into the Vassara River in northern Sweden on Saturday following the collapse of a mining waste dam at Boliden's Aitik copper mine.
The mine owner, Boliden Ltd., temporarily suspended production at the mine near Gällivare above the Arctic Circle over the weekend. Production resumed today.
The company says it released the tailings tainted water into the watershed after a 100 metre (325 foot) section of an internal containment wall eroded, resulting in the release of water and tailings into the settling pond. To maintain the level in the settling pond, the excess water was released.
The cause of the erosion of the internal wall is not yet known. Independent consultants and Boliden personnel have begun to investigate the cause of the incident.
The incident is Sweden's biggest mine waste dam collapse to date.
Established in Sweden in 1924, incorporated in Canada in 1997, Boliden Ltd. is a mining and metals company with exploration, mining, smelting and manufacturing operations around the world.
"It is lucky that on this occasion the amount of toxic substances involved was very low," said Eva Royo Gelabert, World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) European water policy officer. "It is just a matter of time before there is another more serious accident involving mining waste. The only questions are when and where."
This incident comes eight months after a dam wall failed at a mine tailings reclamation facility at Baia Mare in northwestern Romania, spilling tons of cyanide laced waste water down the rivers of Eastern Europe to the Black Sea.
Last week the European Commission's Baia Mare Taskforce published a list of 23 "high risk" mining waste dams in Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary.
But the WWF says it is long past time for new, stricter European Union legislation governing the control of mining waste.
The European Commission review of existing legislation and proposal for new European Union law promised by Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom after the Baia Mare mine spill and endorsed in the Commission's document "Promoting Suistainable Development in the EU non-energy extractive industry," has yet to be published.
In April 1999, WWF published a report "Toxic Waste Storage Sites in EU Countries" giving evidence of pollution problems caused by spillages and leaks from mining waste dams in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, and a series of recommendations for action at European Union level.
WWF says its recommendations "were taken seriously by the European Commission" following the Baia Mare disaster, but two years after the Donana spill and almost nine months after Baia Mare it is still not clear what the European Union proposes to do about mining waste safety - or when.
The Swedish mining waste dam collapse, four months before the Swedish Presidency of the European Union takes over on January 1, 2001, will lead to renewed calls for legal action.