The recent disastrous and fatal dam collapse in Brumadinho (Feijao), Brazil, coming just slightly over three years after the Bento Rodrigues, also identified as Samarco, collapse compels us to write that the application of known tailings pond design and construction techniques might have prevented both of them. Unfortunately, the design manuals for impoundment design were published some time ago and current engineering curricula may not present them with sufficient depth.
After two major disasters in the coal fields of both the UK and the US, the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration, MESA, the fore-runner of MSHA, created under contract the "Engineering and Design Manual. Coal Refuse Disposal Facilities" in 1975. Brought up to date in 2009, the second edition of this work is available in digital format for free download: https://arlweb.msha.gov/Impoundments/DesignManual/ImpoundmentDesignManual.asp. While directed originally at the construction of coal refuse disposal facilities, the content is applicable to the disposal of any waste material coming from preparation plants. In those years, the US Bureau of Mines actively researched mine waste disposal technology and published a series of Information Circulars describing this research. The 1981 "IC 8857, Mine Waste Disposal Technology Proceedings: Bureau of Mines Technology Transfer Workshop, Denver, Colo., July 16, 1981," https://arllib2.msha.gov/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=2, is an example of one such publication. Similar to the manual for coal refuse facilities, the Bureau published one for metal mining in 1977, "IC 8755, Design Guide for Metal and Nonmetal Tailings Disposal," https://arllib2.msha.gov/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=10. The web addresses lead to the MSHA Digital Library associated with the Mine Safety Academy in West Virginia.
Our deeply felt recommendation is that slope stability lessons in mining engineering curricula include a substantial introduction to the stability of built piles and impoundments.
Mick Routledge and Lee Saperstein, SME Health and Safety Division