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Legal and environmental aspects of the closure of dams used in mining activity in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil

Paper from the Proceedings of Mine Closure Solutions 2014 conference held in Ouro Preto, Brazil, April 26-30, 2014. (downloadable PDF).

Authors: Rodrigo Tonidandel, Total Meio Ambiente Ltda, Brazil; Hernani M. de Lima, Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto, Brazil; Maria G. Parizzi, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil; Pietro V. Cota, Total Meio Ambiente Ltda, Brazil

Published by InfoMine Inc. 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-9917905-4-8


The state of Minas Gerais leads mineral production in Brazil and is the site of much mining activity and many mining companies. These are concentrated mainly in the important Brazilian mineral district of Quadrilátero Ferrífero, which is rich in mineral resources and iron formation. The exploitation and beneficiation of iron ore, as well as the disposal of overburden, are associated with the need to deploy dams to dispose of tailings and to contain sediments. This produces a combination of potential environmental risks higher than those registered in other states. Unlike other economic activities, mining comprises activities that are expected to terminate, which is why the rehabilitation of degraded areas should receive special attention. Over the years in the state of Minas Gerais, mine structures such as dams were abandoned without any process of closure or rehabilitation of degraded areas due to high costs, a lack of high-quality engineering practices, and a lack of legal mechanisms to regulate the closure stage. The development of dam projects should adopt best practices in geotechnical engineering that aim to minimize the inherent risks associated with their own design. The deployment and operation of these dams requires maintenance and systematic monitoring, which is essential to evaluate its performance throughout its useful life until its closure stage.

In Minas Gerais, there are four records of major accidents involving tailings dams. In 2001, the rupture of a saddle dam in Nova Lima led to a new milestone in environmental policies related to the mining sector, especially in standards that regulate dams. Since then, the State Environment Foundation (FEAM in Portuguese) has performed pioneering work in the country on dam safety, with satisfactory results. On the other hand, the state’s environmental legislation regarding dams does not provide guidelines on the closure stage. This paper discusses the major legal and environmental aspects related to dams that are currently regulated in Brazil, especially in Minas Gerais. It also addresses results of the program developed by FEAM, the main recommendations of technical standards published by the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT in Portuguese), and the results of a study involving disabled dams published by the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). The paper subsequently outlines proposals and measures to promote discussion of the legal aspects related to the closure of dams and guidelines for preparing plans that apply state of the art techniques. In the current situation, mining should adopt the best available technology combined with proactive practices in order to ensure the environmental quality standards defined by the 1988 Federal Constitution (Brazil, 1988). This is because, despite technological advances that have allowed some success in the rehabilitation of degraded areas and an increased acceptance of political and social responsibility by the mining sector in recent years, society in general his increased demands for the mineral sector, which it views with increasing levels of hostility.

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