Dear Editor: Nathan Conrad criticizes environmentalists for highlighting catastrophic mining accidents that have occurred in other countries (“Mining can bring Wisconsin’s economy, environment together, Capital Times, May 7, 2019). Significantly, Conrad never mentions the recent tailings dam disaster in Brazil that killed over 200 people and contaminated local water supplies. Conrad says that such reporting omits the “simple fact that the permitting and regulatory process in lands abroad are not nearly as stringent as those in the United States.” This statement is wrong on both counts.
The tailings dam failure in Brazil occurred in a technologically advanced country with mining companies that were required to use state-of-the-art technology to construct and maintain tailings dams.
The leading expert on tailings dam failures is Dr. David Chambers, director of the Center for Science in Public Participation in Bozeman, Montana. His research demonstrates that these dam failures are not limited to countries with weak regulation. “Thirty-nine percent of the tailings dam failures worldwide occur in the United States, significantly more than in any other country,” according to Chambers.
Conrad also fails to mention that the same technology for constructing tailings dams that failed in Brazil is now being proposed for the large open pit sulfide mine and tailings dam next to the Menominee River on the Wisconsin-Michigan border. Conrad’s advocacy group, the Natural Resource Development Association, represents Aquila Resources, the Canadian mining company proposing to use this failed technology.
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