Mining waste: The Aznalcóllar tailings pond failure

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Authors: Ginige, T.

Journal: European Environmental Law Review

Volume: 11

Issue: 3

Pages: 76-88

ISSN: 0966-1646

DOI: 10.1023/A:1014710720079

This two-part article is a case study of the European Union and Spanish legislation with respect to the protection of the environment from mining activity. Mining activity can have many negative impacts on the environment by changing the landscape, altering water tables, disrupting the local ecology, generating serious air and water pollution, and permanently degrading large areas of land. To prevent this from occuring it is important that there is wise management of every aspect of its operations using best applicable techniques. Within the mining process tailings have the highest potential to cause significant harm to the environment. The article evaluates the measures taken by the European Union and its Member States, in particular Spain, to control and regulate harm caused to the environmental by mining activity. The study of the Aznalcóllar tailings impoundment failure, near the Donana National Park in Spain, will assist us to review the different aspects of the relevant International Conventions and European environmental legislation. The critical appraisal of applicable EU and Spanish legislation and the interplay between the different actors will allows us to establish the main issues with regard to the effective regulation of the mining waste. This first part of the article discusses what tailing ponds are and their role in the mining process. It looks at the location of the mine in relation to the wetland Donana and the failure of the tailings pond. It sets the frame within which the legal implications can be reviewed then provides a critical analysis of the European Directives and Regulations applicable at the time of the accident.

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