Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hormones in Land-Applied Biosolids Could Affect Aquatic Organisms / Household Chemicals and Drugs Found in Biosolids from Wastewater Treatment Plants

Hormones in Land-Applied Biosolids Could Affect Aquatic Organisms

A USGS scientist prepares a tracer solution in a gas-tight bladder
Scientists setting up equipment used to apply artificial rainfall to a small test plot on a field that received an application of biosolids. The scientists captured the runoff from the plot for later chemical analysis. Photo credit: V. Cory Stephens, USGS.
(Larger version)
Hormones from biosolids applied to fields may be present in rainfall runoff at concentrations that are high enough to impact the health of aquatic organisms if the runoff reaches streams, report scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Colorado State University in Environmental Science and Technology. Artificial rainfall runoff from agricultural test plots where biosolids were applied as fertilizer contained several different hormones (estrogens, androgens, and progesterone). The occurrence of natural and synthetic hormones in streams is a growing concern because low part-per-trillion concentrations of these chemicals have caused endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms. The study results could help wastewater-treatment-plant, water-resource, and wildlife managers design management practices that limit the impacts of biosolids application on streams and aquatic organisms.
Biosolids are created from the sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and are known to contain natural and synthetic hormones. Biosolids are frequently applied to agricultural fields to manage the large quantities of biosolids generated by WWTPs and to improve soil nutrient and water retention characteristics. The team of scientists collaborated with a local farmer to assess the potential for seventeen different hormones (including androgens, estrogens, and progestogens) and two sterols (waxy compounds such as cholesterol) to occur in the rainfall runoff from a winter wheat field in eastern Colorado where biosolids were applied. Small test plots (6 by 6 meters) were identified both before and after biosolids application. The scientists then created artificial rain events and collected the rainfall runoff from the test plots for later chemical analysis. The winter wheat field with the test plots had no prior history of biosolid applications.
Runoff samples collected prior to biosolids application had low concentrations of two hormones (estrone as much as 2.23 nanograms per liter (ng/L) and androstenedione as much as 1.54 ng/L). In contrast, significantly higher concentrations of multiple estrogens (as much as 25.0 ng/L), androgens (as much as 216 ng/L), and progesterone (as much as 98.9 ng/L) were observed in runoff samples taken 1, 8, and 35 days after biosolids application. The observed concentrations, if they reached streams without being diluted or absorbed, are high enough to impact the health of susceptible fish. These results demonstrate that rainfall has the potential to mobilize hormones from agricultural fields where biosolids have been applied.
The USGS's Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and National Water Quality Laboratory, the Colorado Water Institute, the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, and Colorado State University funded this study.


Yang, Y.-Y., Gray, J.L., Furlong, E.T., Davis, J.G., ReVello, R.C., and Borch, T., 2012, Steroid hormone runoff from agricultural test plots applied with municipal biosolids: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 46, no. 5, p. 2746-2754, doi:10.1021/es203896t.

More Information

Related Headlines

Household Chemicals and Drugs Found in Biosolids from Wastewater Treatment Plants

Biosolids are the sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). WWTPs produce a variety of biosolids products for agricultural, landscape, and home use. Depicted in the diagram is an activated sludge tank at a wastewater treatment plant (upper left) and a holding area for biosolids (lower right). (The two photos are not from the same facility.)
Biosolids are the sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). WWTPs produce a variety of biosolids products for agricultural, landscape, and home use. Depicted in the diagram is an activated sludge tank at a wastewater treatment plant (upper left) and a holding area for biosolids (lower right).
(The two photos are not from the same facility.)
(Click on photo for larger version)
Biosolids, the treated sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants, is something that most people don't think about as they flush everyday chemicals and drugs down the drain. However, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists found that biosolids contain relatively high concentrations (hundreds of milligrams per kilogram) of the active ingredients commonly found in a variety of household products and drugs.
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the United States generate approximately
7 million dry tons of biosolids each year. Since biosolids are rich in plant nutrients, farmers, landscapers, and homeowners use about 50 percent of the annual production of biosolids as fertilizer for plants. Biosolids must meet standards for nutrient, metal, and pathogen content before it can be used to fertilize plants and to improve the quality of soil. Because a variety of pharmaceuticals and other household chemicals have been found in the wastewater discharged from WWTPs, questions have been raised about the presence of these chemicals in biosolids. To help answer the questions the scientists purchased or obtained nine different commercially or publicly available biosolids and analyzed them for 87 organic chemicals found in cleaners, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and other products. They found:
  • Fifty-five of the 87 organic chemicals measured were detected in at least one of the nine biosolids collected, with as many as 45 chemicals found in a single sample.
  • Twenty-five of the chemicals were present in every biosolid sample including compounds that are pharmaceutically and hormonally active, such as an antimicrobial disinfectant (triclosan), a musk fragrance (tonalide), an antihistamine (diphenhydramine), and an antiepileptic drug (carbamazepine).
  • A scientist (now with Colorado State University-Pueblo) preparing samples of biosolids for extraction using accelerated solvent extraction. The samples were analyzed for a broad suite of emerging contaminants.
    A scientist (now with Colorado State University-Pueblo) preparing samples of biosolids for extraction using accelerated solvent extraction. The samples were analyzed for a broad suite of emerging contaminants.
    (Click on photo for larger version)
    Total summed concentrations ranged from 64 to 1,811 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg or parts-per-million), with many individual contaminants in the hundreds of mg/kg range.
  • The biosolids were more similar than they were different, even though they were produced by a variety of treatment processes from plants serving vastly different sized cities and towns. The types of contaminants and their relation to each other did not vary greatly between the biosolids tested.
This is the first comprehensive examination of biosolids, and the results indicate that biosolids have high concentrations of these emerging contaminants compared to treated liquid wastewater effluent. What is not known at present is the transport, fate, and potential ecological effects of these contaminants once biosolids are applied to agricultural fields, garden plots, and landscaped plants and shrubs.


Kinney, C.A., Furlong, E.T., Zaugg, S.D., Burkhardt, M.R., Werner, S.L., Cahill, J.D., and Jorgensen, G.R., 2006, Survey of organic wastewater contaminants in biosolids destined for land application: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 40, no. 23, p. 7207-7215, doi:10.1021/es0603406.

More Information

Related Headlines

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

USGS at Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry: From Pharmaceuticals in Groundwater to Mercury in High U.S. Mountains

Photo of worms - caption below

Released: 11/6/2006 12:12:41 PM
Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Catherine Puckett 1-click interview
Phone: 352-264-3532
USGS at Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry: From Pharmaceuticals in Groundwater to Mercury in High U.S. Mountains
  The 27th Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) is being held November 5-9, 2006, at the Palais de Congrès in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Additional information about the conference can be found online at  While the conference is occurring, please contact Catherine Puckett for information about specific presentations.
A Happy Medium?  Antidepressants in Aquatic Systems:  But recent USGS studies have shown that a wide range of pharmaceuticals and other human-caused waste compounds remain despite wastewater treatment and are discharged to receiving waters across North America.  Antidepressants are a commonly used class of pharmaceuticals whose pharmacological effects may extend beyond humans to aquatic organisms present in surface water systems that receive treated wastewater discharge.  

Yet few methods exist to detect antidepressants in the environment, and their effects on aquatic organisms are only beginning to be understood.  

Recently, USGS researchers developed a method to study the distribution and fate of antidepressants and their breakdown products in aquatic environments, including municipal wastewater and surface water.  Venlafaxine (Effexor) was the predominant antidepressant researchers found in wastewater and river-water samples from Colorado, Iowa, and Minnesota, though other antidepressants were found as well. Typical concentrations of individual antidepressants ranged from a few nanograms per liter to thousands of nanograms per liter (for Venalfaxine) in wastewater.  

This indicates that wastewater is a point source of antidepressants into the environment, at concentrations that may impact aquatic life. For more information, please contact Edward T. Furlong, USGS, at or 303-236-3941; or Melissa Schultz, College of Wooster, Wooster, OH at or 330-263-2645. SETAC presentation is Monday, Nov. 6, 8:20 a.m., Room 517A, Palais de Congrès.

Pharmaceuticals in Long Island's Groundwater: Pharmaceuticals can infiltrate groundwater systems in areas susceptible to wastewater contamination. In studies by Stony Brook University and the U.S. Geological Survey of ground-water wells in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY, near permitted wastewater treatment facilities discharging to ground water, scientists detected pharmaceuticals in concentrations generally 1-200 ng/L (parts per trillion).These vanishingly small concentrations are several orders of magnitude below the concentrations where any effects have been observed or predicted for the compounds measured in this study. Acetaminophen, caffeine, carbamazepine (anti-epileptic), cotinine (human metabolite of nicotine), paraxanthine (human metabolite of caffeine), and sulfamethoxazole (antibiotic) were found most often in both studies. However compounds were more frequently detected in the shallower wells.  These occurrences, and laboratory studies, suggest that of these compounds, caffeine, carbamazepine, paraxanthine, and sulfamethoxazole are more persistent in groundwater and have the most potential for transport in the subsurface.

For more information, contact Mark J. Benotti at or 631-736-0783 x126. SETAC presentation is Thursday, Nov. 9, 4:50 p.m., Room 516AB, Palais de Congrès.

After the Hurricanes - The Contaminants Left Behind in New Orleans: USGS researchers measured numerous semivolatile organic compounds in street floodwater mud and Lake Pontchartrain sediment samples collected in September and October 2005 after the levee breaches caused by Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding from Hurricane Rita. These compounds include compounds organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, PAHs, current-use pesticides, anthropogenic indicator compounds (AICs), and pharmaceuticals (in the mud only). Contaminant concentrations in street mud varied substantially and for some - including PAHs, some AICs, and four termiticides - were highest at several sites near downtown New Orleans when compared with other locations (Chalmette, Ninth Ward, Slidell, Rigolets). USGS researchers found that the highest concentrations of urban-related compounds (such as chlordane and PAHs) in lakebed sediments exceeded average concentrations in U.S. urban lakes and sediment quality guidelines, but were not markedly dissimilar to historical values or to those reported from other urban areas. The highest concentrations were limited to within a few hundred meters of the 17th Street Canal outlet into the lake. This research suggests that the impacts of the hurricanes on the sediment history of Lake Pontchartrain are most likely transitory and confined to a relatively small geographic region. For more information, contact W. T. Foreman at or 303-236-3942. SETAC presentation is on Thursday, Nov. 9, 10:40 a.m., Room 516C, Palais de Congrès.

Rocky Mountain High -- Mercury in Cold Environments of the Western United States: Atmospheric deposition of mercury in remote areas in the Western United States is sufficient to pose a risk to human and ecosystem health at sites favorable for methylation, a process in which mercury in the environment is converted into a highly toxic form that accumulates in organisms and is amplified up the food chain. USGS researchers and partners measured mercury in snowpack samples during 2003-2005 as part of the National Park Service Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project. Eight high-altitude, high-latitude sites were selected for study in or near national parks in Colorado, Montana, California, Oregon, and Alaska. Mercury levels were lowest in the North Cascades, highest in the Rocky Mountains, and were related to the amount of particulate carbon in the snow, with both found at higher levels in forested sites than in open meadows. Seasonal variations were lowest in Denali National Park and highest in Olympic National Park.  Mercury concentrations were higher during the warm season than the snow season. Total annual fluxes of mercury were as high as 10 mg m-2 at some sites in the Rocky Mountains, which receive mercury deposition equal to that in the Upper Midwest or Northeast.  Global and regional sources of mercury emissions contribute to its deposition, with regional sources likely contributing more in the Rocky Mountains, where there are more upwind sources of emissions. For more information, contact Don Campbell at or 303-236-4882, ext. 298. SETAC presentation is on Thursday, Nov. 9, 8 a.m.- 7 p.m., Exhibit Hall, Palais de Congrès. Poster #934.

Contaminants Lower Reproductive Health of Gila River Fish: Downstream of Phoenix, southern Arizona's Gila River is primarily recharged by irrigation return water, storm water, and wastewater treatment plant effluent, and fish and aquatic invertebrate habitats are degraded. Largemouth bass, common carp and channel catfish from the Gila had elevated levels of organochlorine pesticides, many of which have been associated with estrogen-like effects in fish. Reproductive biomarkers, including gonad size and hormone concentrations, were notably different in fish from the Gila River when compared to fish from the Colorado River, indicating that organochlorine contaminants may be affecting the reproductive health of fish populations in the Gila River downstream of Phoenix. For more information, contact Jo Ellen Hinck at or 573-876-1808. SETAC presentation is  on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m., Room 517B,  Palais de Congrès.

Aquatic Herbicides May Benefit Invasive Aquatic Species: Aquatic plants are frequently exposed to low-levels of agricultural herbicides at concentrations less than those known to cause adverse effects in the laboratory. Laboratory studies have shown that low levels of herbicide exposure can actually increase growth rates of aquatic plants due to physiological stress adaptations. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Manitoba studied whether low levels of herbicides in aquatic systems may actually aid non-native invasive aquatic plants, allowing them to out-compete or displace more desirable native aquatic plant species. Researchers studied the effects of atrazine herbicide on both native and non-native, invasive aquatic plants in experimental ponds over a period of 42 days. Results confirmed that lower levels of atrazine could actually stimulate growth of some invasive species. Some invasive aquatic plant species were less sensitive to atrazine than a common native aquatic plant species. Although the invasive species did not totally displace the native species, the results indicate that some herbicides may have the unintended consequence of benefiting non-native invasive species that may compete with native aquatic plant species. Aquatic plants are critical components of aquatic ecosystems by providing habitat and energy sources for many fish and invertebrates. For more information, contact James F. Fairchild at or 573-876-1871. SETAC presentation is on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 10:20 a.m., Room 516AB, Palais de Congrès.

Wastewater Issues Get Wormy:  Recent research indicates that earthworms may be an important initial step by which organic contaminants could enter the terrestrial food web. Wastewater treatment plants process millions of gallons of mixed solid and liquid human waste daily, returning treated effluent to surface and ground water and disposing of the residual sludge.  Roughly half of the many thousands of dry tons of treated sludge (usually referred to as biosolids) generated annually in the U.S. are applied to agricultural soils as a nutrient-rich soil amendment.  Recent USGS research has identified a wide variety of organic contaminants (such as disinfectants, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, and plasticizers) that can be present in biosolids, often in concentrations tens to thousands of times higher than found in treated liquid waste.  One concern related to the practice of land application of biosolids is whether any of these organic contaminants find their way into soil-dwelling organisms.  To address this concern, USGS and Eastern Washington University scientists collaborated on a study of earthworms collected from agricultural soils in the Midwest and Western United States that had been exposed to land-applied biosolids.  The samples were  analyzed for a diverse array of pharmaceuticals and other organic contaminants (77 target compounds were measured).  Soil and earthworm samples were collected from select agricultural fields early and late in the growing season.  Thirty-one compounds including triclosan (household disinfectant), several fragrances, caffeine, and fluoxetine (the antidepressant Prozac) were detected in earthworms from biosolid-applied fields, with tissue concentrations ranging from 100's to 1000's of micrograms per kilogram (parts per billion). These results demonstrate that earthworms can accumulate a range of these chemically diverse organic contaminants within their tissues, and may be an important initial step by which these compounds could enter the terrestrial food web.  For more information contact Ed Furlong, USGS, at or 303-236-3941, and Chad Kinney, Eastern Washington University, at or 509-359-7932. SETAC presentation is on Thursday, Nov. 9, 4:10 p.m., Room 516 AB, Palais de Congrès.

Toxicity Tests for Endangered Mussels: The United States is home to more mussel species than any other country in the world. Despite the diversity of mussels found in the country, no other widespread group of animals in North America is as imperiled or has faced as many extinctions. The abundance and variety of mussels have declined sharply over the past century, but the cause of mussel decline is not well understood. Researchers at the USGS-Columbia Environmental Research Center, in cooperation with other government agencies, academia, and private industry, are developing the first standardized toxicity tests using several life stages of freshwater mussels to assess the effects that pollution may have on these declines. Mussels are filter feeders that readily accumulate toxins. Results of this ground-breaking work indicate that water quality criteria for individual chemicals established for the protection of aquatic organisms may not be adequately protective of sensitive stages of freshwater mussels. For more information, contact Ning Wang, or 573-441-2946. SETAC presentation is on Thursday, Nov. 9, 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Exhibit Hall, Palais de Congrès. Poster # 1056

Toxic Tango: Interactions of Mercury and Selenium on Bird Embryos: Mercury and selenium are common environmental contaminants that sometimes occur together at elevated levels in bird eggs. Both have been associated with reproductive impairment in birds, in particular by embryonic death and deformities. Although a lot is known about the toxicity of these two contaminants by themselves in eggs, little is known about potential toxic interactions when they occur in the same egg. USGS research indicates that combining the contaminants had a worse effect on mallard embryos than either one did separately. Follow-up studies, however, revealed that combined effects of these two contaminants may vary by species and exposure amount. For more information, contact Gary Heinz at or 301-497-5711. The SETAC presentation is on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 10 a.m., Room 511AD, Palais de Congrès.

Contaminants Affect Over-Winter Survival of Swallows: The effects of chronic contaminant exposure on over-winter survival of birds are largely unknown. These studies are difficult to carry out because suitable bird species may not occur in contaminated locations, there may be insufficient number of breeding birds, they may be difficult to capture, or the species may to too long-lived to study within a reasonable time.  Tree swallows overcome many of these research problems.  Large numbers of breeding birds can be attracted to a site because they will readily nest in man-made nest boxes.  They are also relatively easy to capture, return to the same breeding site year after year, and are short lived.  The Housatonic River in western Massachusetts is extremely contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and PCB concentrations in swallow eggs are associated with decreased reproductive success.  USGS researchers studied the effect on over-winter survival of chronic exposure to PCBs for 5 years on the Housatonic River to determine if adult swallow survival was reduced in this highly contaminated environment. Researchers found that annual over-winter survival was reduced significantly by about 5 percent in females that nest at the most contaminated sites.  For more information contact Christine M. Custer, or 608-781-6247. SETAC presentation is on Monday, Nov. 6, 2:10 p.m., Room 517 B, Palais de Congrès.

Fungicides: Analysis, Fate, and Toxicity: The recent spread of Asian soybean rust to North America has increased interest in fungicides to combat this scourge. Despite decades of agricultural and urban use, relatively little data are available on the fate and effects of fungicides in the aquatic environment. One of the most used fungicides in the United States, chlorothalonil, has been used for over 50 years for a variety of applications. Other fungicides (azoxystrobin, myclobutanil, propiconazole, pyraclostrobin, and tebuconazole) have been recently registered for treatment of soybean rust and are rapidly increasing in use. Some of these fungicides are highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Fungicides are often not included in monitoring programs, although fungicides and their degradates have been detected in water, sediments, air and rainfall at concentrations that can cause adverse effects to aquatic organisms. Effective monitoring of fungicide concentrations is required to understand if increasing use will result in increasing stream concentrations.  The focus of this session will range from older fungicides such as chlorothalonil to newer fungicides such as the triazoles and strobilurins. Topics will include analysis of fungicides and their degradates, environmental occurrence, degradation pathways, modes of action, and toxicity to aquatic organisms. For more information, contact Kathryn Kuivila at or 916-278-3054. The symposium, which is sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey and Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory, will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 8, in room 510 BD, Palais de Congrès, from 8:00 - 11:40 a.m.

How Much is Too Much? Mercury Thresholds for Common Loon Eggs: Assessing the ecological risk of mercury exposure to fish-eating wildlife is a priority issue for federal and state resource management agencies. Atmospheric mercury deposition has increased due to industrial activities exposing fish-eating wildlife populations in New England, coastal Atlantic states, the Southeast and the Upper Midwest to elevated mercury in their prey. The USGS, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Wisconsin have conducted research to generate a scientifically defensible common loon/mercury risk assessment model. The work focused on the common loon because this species is sensitive to the toxic effects of mercury and has the greatest risk of mercury exposure among wildlife species on inland (non-marine) North American aquatic systems. A critical component of the model is determining the level of mercury in loon eggs that poses a population level risk.  In 2005 and 2006, researchers conducted a study to better characterize methylmercury exposure in eggs of Wisconsin common loons and to determine the level of exposure in eggs that reduces fitness and survival of loon embryos and resultant chicks. Blood mercury levels in a sample of Wisconsin loon chicks indicated mercury exposure in some chicks rivaled that of adult birds during the breeding season. Blood mercury concentrations rapidly declined in growing chicks, such that by six weeks of age blood mercury levels were about 6 percent of levels at hatch. Reduced embryo survival was evident at an egg content concentration of mercury that is representative of what is often found on low pH lakes in northern Wisconsin, although sample sizes are small.  For more information, contact Kevin Kenow at or 608-781-6278. SETAC presentation is on Wednesday Nov. 8 at 8:40 a.m., Room 511 AD, Palais de Congrès.

State And Federal Agencies Talk To Citizens About Coal Ash - ABC13

State And Federal Agencies Talk To Citizens About Coal Ash Posted: Apr 14, 2014 5:30 PM EDT

EPA holds open forum on cleaning coal ash from Dan River

Posted on: 10:06 pm, April 14, 2014, by
DANVILLE, Va. — The Environmental Protection Agency held an open forum Monday to discuss removing coal ash from the Dan River near the Schoolfield Dam.

Duke Energy is focusing cleanup efforts in Danville after teams found a 2,500-ton deposit of coal ash near the Schoolfield Dam.

Abreu Grogan Park will be closed while crews work to vacuum sediment out of the water and then move it to lined landfills in Virginia and North Carolina.

Representatives from several agencies including the U.S. EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health, City of Danville and U.S. Coast Guard attended the meeting to answer questions.

Dredging is expected to begin by May 1. EPA officials say cleanup should be completed by July.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coal ash deposits headed to N.C. dry landfill

Coal ash deposits headed to N.C. dry landfill

BY JOHN R. CRANE (434) 791-7987 | Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 8:00 pm 
A spokesman for Duke Energy said the utility plans to take the coal ash accumulated near the Schoolfield Dam to a dry landfill in Roxboro, N.C.

Jeff Brooks told the Danville Register & Bee the Upper Piedmont landfill, owned by Republic Services, could possibly be the site where 2,500 tons of coal ash deposited on the upstream side of the dam would be taken.

The coal ash deposit covers about 26,000 square feet and is up to a foot thick. A Feb. 2 spill at a coal ash pond at Duke’s old Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., coated about 70 miles of the bottom of the Dan River with the toxic mixture.

A report released last month by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said storing coal ash in lined landfills poses a danger to the environment and public health. The league, in its report, recommended that the ash be kept in proven saltstone technology — cylindrical, concrete tanks that would isolate toxins from the soil, air and water.

During an informal public discussion on the Duke Energy dredging project, Myles Bartos, on-scene coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he could not comment on the report because he has not read it.

Duke Energy has 33 coal ash ponds at 14 sites in North Carolina.

Several state and federal agencies held an open house Monday on Duke’s coal ash clean-up project at the Community Market in Danville.

When asked about the report, Brooks said, “We’ll evaluate each site individually to determine what the best options are.”

Duke plans to close the coal ash storage ponds at the Eden site permanently and has submitted plans to state and federal agencies.

Plans are also being made to close other coal ash ponds at other plants.

As for the coal ash removal from near the Schoolfield Dam, the process began about two weeks ago to prepare for the project at Abreu-Grogan Park, which will be closed for the clean-up. About 2,500 tons of coal ash will be vacuum-dredged from the site.

Once removed from the Dan River, the coal ash and sediment will be “de-watered” and the water filtrated to meet Clean Water Act standards before it’s returned to the Dan River.

The dry coal ash and sediment will be sent to a landfill for disposal.

The clean-up, performed by Phillips & Jordan Inc., is expected to be complete by the end of June and the park reopened in early July.

The owner of the Roxboro landfill, Republic Services, based in Phoenix, Ariz., is the second largest provider of solid waste collection, transfer, recycling and disposal services in the nation, according to the company’s website.

MSHA issues preliminary mine safety data for 2013: fatality rates increased, driven by a high number of mining deaths

MSHA News Release: [04/10/2014]
Contact:   Amy Louviere
Phone:    (202) 693-9423
Release Number 14-596-NAT

MSHA issues preliminary mine safety data for 2013:  fatality rates increased, driven by a high number of mining deaths

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration today released preliminary data for calendar year 2013, updating the "Mine Safety and Health at a Glance" page. The charts include information on inspections; violations; number of mines and miners; and fatality and injury rates for coal, metal and nonmetal, and all mining.

The data show that while the 2013 overall injury rate improved from the prior year to an historic low, fatality rates increased, driven by a high number of mining deaths in the 4th quarter of 2013 when 15 miners died. In total, there were 42 mining deaths in 2013. Of those 42, 20 occurred at coal mines (unchanged from the previous year) and 22 at metal and nonmetal mines, an increase of six from the previous year. Nine of the metal and nonmetal 22 deaths occurred in the 4th quarter.

In general, mining fatality and injury rates have been on a downward trend. 2011 recorded historic low fatality and injury rates. 2012 fatal and injury rates fell even lower, followed by fiscal year 2013, with the lowest rates ever recorded.

For all mining, the preliminary 2013 fatal injury rate was 0.132 per 200,000 hours worked, an increase from 2012. The overall injury rate of 2.46 per 200,000 hours was a record low. For coal mining, the preliminary 2013 fatal injury rate was slightly higher than 2012, at .0176 fatal injuries per 200,000 hours worked. The overall injury rate of 3.08 per 200,000 hours was a record low. For metal and nonmetal mining, the fatal injury rate increased to .0108 per 200,000 hours worked. The overall injury rate of 2.11 per 200,000 hours worked was a record low.

The number of deaths of mine contractors dropped to a record low as well, with a total of four fatalities, compared to five the previous year. The fatal injury rate for contractors dropped to .0061.

For the third consecutive year, mining industry compliance continued to improve. Inspectors issued 118,759 citations and orders in 2013, a 15 percent decline from the prior year.

"MSHA has implemented a number of actions to improve compliance, and it shows," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "The mining deaths, however, particularly in the 4th quarter of 2013, make clear that more needs done to protect our nation's miners."

MSHA actions include: the special impact inspection initiative targeting troubled mines, the revised Pattern of Violations enforcement program to rein in chronic violators, the Rules to Live By initiative designed to prevent common types of mining deaths, and new examination rules requiring underground coal mines to "find and fix" hazards during mine examinations. Several stakeholder initiatives, such as improved guidance on guarding of equipment and fall protection at metal and nonmetal mines, have also led to significant improvements.

The number of mines in operation decreased slightly in 2013, from 14,093 to 13,708. The number of working miners also declined, from 387,878 to 374,069. MSHA will release a final version of the calendar year data in July.

# # #

Coal Ash: Better late than never? Perhaps so

Better late than never? Perhaps so

The Editorial Board | Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 7:00 am 
How many Danvillians knew about the existence of the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., before Feb. 2?

Of those who knew about the power plant, how many knew that coal ash — the waste product from the generation of electric power — was stored in ponds located next to the Dan River?

We’ve all learned a lot about coal ash — and environmental politics in North Carolina — since a corrugated metal pipe underneath one of Duke Energy’s storage ponds in Eden failed and became a channel for coal ash and waste water to pour into the Dan River.

In the weeks and months since, Danville’s reputation as a provider of good-quality drinking water has been tarnished.

City Manager Joe King recently hosted a video made for the city’s coal ash spill webpage. In it, King poses with a glass of water while he says, "The water we deliver is clear and meets all state drinking standards. I want you to know I can give you my personal assurance that water in Danville is safe to drink."

We know the city’s water is safe to drink because multiple tests of Danville’s treated drinking water have proven it to be safe. But the city operates on a narrow margin of error when it comes to drinking water. The water treatment plant can produce nine million gallons of water a day. The city has two water storage tanks in Ballou Park that can hold a total of 12 million gallons.

That’s it. That’s the margin of error. About two days of drinking water.

Besides the remaining coal ash in Eden, what other threats to Danville’s drinking water exist? What does the city’s water treatment plant need to prepare for those threats?

For the city government, the answers can be found by funding a study to find out "any other potential source(s) of contamination to the Dan River which would cause treatment problems at the Danville water plant … with means to address those concerns at the plant."

The city’s requested study seeks "recommendations … on how the city could sustain a prolonged river contamination event, including feasibility of installing additional water storage facilities, construction of public access points at system connections with neighboring utilities for filling water containers …"

If all of that seems to make a lot of sense, that’s because it does make sense. But it would have made even more sense six months — or better yet — six years ago.

The assumption we all had about the quality of Danville’s water treatment system was based on annual water test results.

But this requested study tells us that Danville’s government never spent enough time — or any time at all — contemplating what threats to the city’s water supply lurked upstream.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chronology of uranium tailings dam failures

(last updated 19 Nov 2012)
(tailings releases without embankment failure not listed)
Date Location Parent company Type of Incident Release Impacts
2012, Nov. 4 Sotkamo, Kainuu province, Finland (nickel mine, with uranium by-product production planned) Talvivaara Mining Company Plc external link leak from gypsum pond through a "funnel-shaped hole" hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated waste water nickel and zinc concentrations in nearby Snow River exceeded the values that are harmful to organisms tenfold or even a hundredfold, uranium concentrations more than tenfold (view details)
(1994) Zirovski vrh, Slovenia Rudnik Zirovski vrh, Gorenja vas ongoing slippage of the slope (7 million t) with the "Borst" tailings deposit (600,000 t) on the top, at velocity of 0.3 m per year - -
1994, Feb. 14 Olympic Dam, Roxby Downs, South Australia WMC Ltd. leakage of tailings dam during 2 years or more release of up to 5 million m3 of contaminated water into subsoil ?
1985 Lengenfeld, Vogtland, Germany Wismut localized dam failure ? minor
1984, Jan. 5 Key Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada Cameco (67%), Uranerz (33%) overtopping of process water reservoir, due to poor management 87,330 m3 of contaminated water ?
1979, Jul. 16 Church Rock, New Mexico, USA United Nuclear dam wall breach, due to differential foundation settlement and direct exposure of the dam to tailings solution 370,000 m3 of radioactive water, 1,000 tonnes of contaminated sediment Contamination of Rio Puerco sediments up to 110 km downstream
> Download:
Abnormal occurence; Mill Tailings Impoundment Failure, U.S. NRC, Federal Register Vol. 45, No. 8, January 11, 1980, p. 2424-2425 external link (1.4M PDF - ADMAS Acc. No. ML101040064)
1979, Mar. 1 Union Carbide, Uravan, Colorado, USA Union Carbide external link two slope slides, due to snow smelt and internal seepage - -
1977, Apr. Western Nuclear, Jeffrey City, Wyoming, USA Western Nuclear Tailings slurry overtopped the embankment because of insufficient freeboard space, considerably less slope than the requisite 3 horizontal to 1 vertical, and a loss in structural integrity caused by the melting of snow interpersed with the fill used to construct the embankment. 40 m3 of tailings and 8,700 m3 of liquid "no offsite contamination"
1977, Feb. 1 Homestake, Milan, New Mexico, USA Homestake Mining Company external link dam failure, due to rupture of plugged (frozen) slurry pipeline 30,000 m3 of tailings and 7,600 - 30,000 m3 of liquid no impacts outside the mine site
1976, Apr. 1 Kerr-McGee, Churchrock, New Mexico, USA Kerr-McGee dam failure, due to differential settlement of foundation soils "minor quantity" ?
1971, Mar. 23 Western Nuclear, Jeffrey City, Wyoming, USA Western Nuclear dam failure, due to break in tailings discharge line ? "no offsite contamination occured"
1971, Feb. 16, Petrotomics, Shirley Basin, Wyoming, USA Petrotomics secondary tailing dike failure 7.6 m3 of liquid liquid lost to unrestricted area
1967, Jul. 2 Climax, Grand Junction, Colorado, USA ? tailing dike failure of unapproved retention system 1,200 - 12,000 m3 of waste liquid effluent release into Colorado river
1967, Feb. 6 Atlas Corp., Moab, Utah, USA   auxiliary decant failure, overflow from main tailings pond overflowed aux. decant system 1700 m3  
1963, Jun. 16 Utah Construction, Riverton, Wyoming, USA ? The dam was intentionally breached and a 2-ft depth of effluent was released to prevent uncontrolled release of the impoundment contents during heavy rain ? ?
1962, Jun. 11 Mines Development, Edgemont, South Dakota, USA ? dam failure, due to unreported causes 100 m3 tailings released reached a creek and some were carried 25 miles to a reservoir downstream
1961, Dec. 6 Union Carbide, Maybell, Colorado, USA Union Carbide external link dam failure from unreported causes 280 m3 effluent released did not reach any stream
1960 Gunnar mine, Beaverlodge area, Saskatchewan, Canada Gunnar Mines Ltd. dam failure ? tailings release into Lake Athabasca, creating Langley Bay tailings delta
1959, Aug. 19 Union Carbide, Green River, Utah, USA Union Carbide external link dam failure during flash flood 8,400 m3 tailings and effluent reach a creek and river
1958, Apr. Mayluu-Suu tailing #7, Kyrgyzstan   dam failure after earthquake and heavy rain 600,000 m3 a lot of houses in the town destroyed, people were killed, and the tailings were spread over 40 km down by the river, contaminating flood plains
> View
photo external link (UNEP/GRID-Arendal)
1954 Lengenfeld, Vogtland, Germany Wismut dam failure during flooding event 50,000 m3 tailings spread 4 km down by the river, create wetland by damming up
  • United Nations Environment Programme - Industry and Environment: Environmental and Safety Incidents concerning Tailings Dams at Mines, Results of a Survey for the years 1980-1996, May 1996, 129 p.
  • United States Committee on Large Dams: Tailings Dam Incidents, Denver, CO, November 1994, 82 p., ISBN 1-884575-03-X
  • U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Regulatory Guide 3.11.1, Rev. 1, Operational Inspection and Surveillance of Embankment Retention Systems for Uranium Mill Tailings, October 1980

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Coal ash suspected in lake

Apr. 09, 2014 @ 09:20 PM

            Coal ash suspected in lake

Water sample tests done by the Kerr Lake Regional Water System have not indicated the presence of coal ash, but one Vance County resident says he spotted the grayish substance while fishing in Kerr Lake last week.

Meeting: EPA to discuss river clean up / Rattled By Industry Pollution, Residents Fear Drop In EPA Inspections And Enforcement

EPA to discuss river clean up

GoDanRiver staff | Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:12 pm 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies will hold an open house Monday in Danville for residents to discuss upcoming dredge work to clean up coal ash from near the Schoolfield Dam.

The event will take place 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Danville Community Market building at 629 Craghead St.

Representatives from the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health, city of Danville, U.S. Coast Guard and other participating agencies will attend.

The open house will provide an opportunity for residents to discuss on a one-on-one basis planning details for upcoming dredge work near the Schoolfield Dam.

There will be no formal presentation.

Rattled By Industry Pollution, Residents Fear Drop In EPA Inspections And Enforcement

Posted: Updated:

  • By 2018, the agency would conduct an average of 14,000 federal inspections and evaluations per year across the country. That’s a 33-percent dip from the annual EPA caseloads from 2005-09, and a 30-percent drop from 2012.
  • By 2018, the EPA would initiate an average of 2,320 civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases a year in the five-year span. The drop: 41 percent from 2005-09 figures, and 23 percent from 2012.
  • And, by 2018, the agency envisions concluding 2,000 civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases per year, a 47-percent dip from the caseloads in 2005-09, and a 33-percent cut from 2012.
The EPA said it intends to put its enforcement might behind major pollution cases across the country. Under its five-year plan, the agency would focus, for instance, on criminal cases “having the most significant health, environmental, and deterrence impacts.”
“The strategic decision to focus on high impact cases means that the overall number of cases will tend to be lower than in past years,” the EPA told the Center in a written statement. “We anticipate this strategy will result in a higher level of public health protection because of the significant impacts associated with the large cases, and the precedent they set for performance of large facilities across the country.”
Environmental advocates are not swayed. The planned reduction in federal enforcement comes as residents near industry fence lines say states are doing little to protect them.
Advocates: Cuts to impact minority, impoverished communities
“It’s this perfect storm,” said John Suttles, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit handling environmental cases in six states. “I think it’s a really dangerous situation.”
Suttles, based in North Carolina, points to recent environmental incidents in the state including the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 29 years before taking office — a connection that has put the governor on the defensive over the state’s dealings with the utility giant.
Even before the spill, according to emails obtained by the Southern Environmental Law Center, state regulators consulted Duke Energy before seeking to exclude citizens from settlement talks over groundwater pollution triggered by the utility’s coal ash ponds.
Beginning in 2009, the Center for Public Integrity exposed the environmental perils of coal ash ponds. Earlier this year, the EPA announced it would begin regulating the disposal of coal ash as part of a settlement to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.
In the southeastern U.S., the environmental hazards extend beyond that one issue, said the law center, among those that have submitted comments to the EPA about its strategic plan.

Chronology of major tailings dam failures

Note: Due to limited availability of data, this compilation is in no way complete
Date Location Parent company Ore type Type of Incident Release Impacts
2014, Feb. 2 Dan River Steam Station, Eden, North Carolina, USA Duke Energy external link coal ash collapse of an old drainage pipe under a 27-acre ash waste pond about 82,000 short tons [74,400 t] of toxic coal ash and 27 million gallons [100,000 m3] of contaminated water ash flowing through drainage pipe into Dan River
2013, Nov. 15-19 Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine external link, Kajaran, Syunik province, Armenia Cronimet Mining AG external link copper, molybdenum damage of tailings pipeline ? tailings flowing into Norashenik River for several days
2012, Dec. 17 former Gullbridge mine site, Newfoundland, Canada   copper embankment dam failure, width 50 m   non-consumption water advisory has been issued for the Town of South Brook (view details external link - Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation)
2012, Nov. 4 Sotkamo, Kainuu province, Finland Talvivaara Mining Company Plc external link nickel, (uranium by-product planned) leak from gypsum pond through a "funnel-shaped hole" hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated waste water nickel and zinc concentrations in nearby Snow River exceeded the values that are harmful to organisms tenfold or even a hundredfold, uranium concentrations more than tenfold (view details)
2011, Jul. 21 Mianyang City, Songpan County, Sichuan Province, China Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese Plant manganese tailings dam damaged from landslides caused from heavy rains ? tailings damaged residential roads and houses, forcing 272 people to leave; tailings were washed into the Fujiang River, leaving 200,000 people without drinking water supply
2010, Oct. 4 Kolontár, Hungary
(Aerial View:
Google Maps external link)
MAL Magyar Alumínium external link bauxite tailings dam failure (view details) 700,000 cubic metres of caustic red mud several towns flooded, 10 people killed, approx. 120 people injured, 8 square kilometres flooded
2010, Jun. 25 Huancavelica, Peru Unidad Minera Caudalosa Chica ? tailings dam failure 21,420 cubic metres of tailings contamination of río Escalera and río Opamayo 110 km downstream
2009, Aug. 29 Karamken, Magadan region, Russia ? gold tailings dam failure after heavy rain
background info external link - SRIC 2004)
? eleven homes were carried away by the mudflow; at least one person was killed
2009, May 14 Huayuan County, Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, Hunan Province, China ? manganese tailings dam failure (capacity: 50,000 cubic metres) ? The landslide set off by the tailings dam failure destroyed a home, killing three and injuring four people.
2008, Dec. 22 Kingston fossil plant, Harriman, Tennessee, USA Tennessee Valley Authority external link coal ash retention wall failure Release of 5.4 million cubic yards [4.1 million cubic metres] of ashy slurry The ash slide covered 400 acres [1.6 square kilometres] as deep as 6 feet [1.83 metres]. The wave of ash and mud toppled power lines, covered Swan Pond Road and ruptured a gas line. It damaged 12 homes, and one person had to be rescued, though no one was seriously hurt.
2008, Sep. 8 Taoshi, Linfen City, Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, China Tashan mining company iron Collapse of a waste-product reservoir at an illegal mine during rainfall ? A mudslide several metres high buried a market, several homes and a three-storey building. At least 254 people are dead and 35 injured.
2006, Nov. 6 Nchanga, Chingola, Zambia Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM) external link
(51% Vedanta Resources plc external link)
copper failure of tailings slurry pipeline from Nchanga tailings leaching plant to Muntimpa tailings dumps ? Release of highly acidic tailings into Kafue river; high concentrations of copper, manganese, cobalt in river water; drinking water supply of downstream communities shut down
2006, April 30 near Miliang, Zhen'an County, Shangluo, Shaanxi Province, China Zhen'an County Gold Mining Co. Ltd. gold tailings dam failure during sixth upraising of dam ? The landslide buried about 40 rooms of nine households, leaving 17 residents missing. Five injured people were taken to hospital. More than 130 local residents have been evacuated. Toxic potassium cyanide was released into the Huashui river, contaminating it approx. 5 km downstream.
2005, April 14 Bangs Lake, Jackson County, Mississippi, USA Mississippi Phosphates Corp. external link phosphate phosphogypsum stack failure, because the company was trying to increase the capacity of the pond at a faster rate than normal, according to Officials with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (the company has blamed the spill on unusually heavy rainfall, though) approx. 17 million gallons of acidic liquid (64,350 m3) liquid poured into adjacent marsh lands, causing vegetation to die
2004, Nov. 30 Pinchi Lake, British Columbia, Canada Teck Cominco Ltd. external link mercury tailings dam (100-metres long and 12-metres high) collapses during reclamation work 6,000 to 8,000 m3 of rock, dirt and waste water tailings spilled into 5,500 ha Pinchi Lake
2004, Sep. 5 Riverview, Florida, USA Cargill Crop Nutrition external link phosphate a dike at the top of a 100-foot-high gypsum stack holding 150-million gallons of polluted water broke after waves driven by Hurricane Frances bashed the dike's southwest corner 60 million gallons (227,000 m3) of acidic liquid liquid spilled into Archie Creek that leads to Hillsborough Bay
2004, May 22 Partizansk, Primorski Krai, Russia Dalenergo coal ash A ring dike, enclosing an area of roughly 1 km2 and holding roughly 20 million cubic meters of coal ash, broke. The break left a hole roughly 50 meter wide in the dam. approximately 160,000 cubic meters of ash The ash flowed through a drainage canal into a tributary to the Partizanskaya River which empties in to Nahodka Bay in Primorski Krai (east of Vladivostok).
For details download
Sept. 2004 report external link (PDF) by Paul Robinson, SRIC
2004, March 20 Malvési, Aude, France Comurhex (Cogéma/Areva) decantation and evaporation pond of uranium conversion plant dam failure after heavy rain in preceding year (view details) 30,000 cubic metres of liquid and slurries release led to elevated nitrate concentrations of up to 170 mg/L in the canal of Tauran for several weeks
2003, Oct. 3 Cerro Negro, Petorca prov., Quinta region, Chile Cia Minera Cerro Negro copper tailings dam failure 50,000 tonnes of tailings tailings flowed 20 kilometers downstream the río La Ligua
2002, Aug. 27 / Sep. 11 San Marcelino, Zambales, Philippines Dizon Copper Silver Mines, Inc.   overflow and spillway failure of two abandoned tailings dams after heavy rain (view details) ? Aug. 27: some tailings spilled into Mapanuepe Lake and eventually into the Sto. Tomas River
Sep. 11: low lying villages flooded with mine waste; 250 families evacuated; nobody reported hurt so far
2001, Jun. 22 Sebastião das Águas Claras, Nova Lima district, Minas Gerais, Brazil Mineração Rio Verde Ltda iron mine waste dam failure (view details) ? tailings wave traveled at least 6 km, killing at least two mine workers, three more workers are missing
2000, Oct. 18 Nandan county, Guangxi province, China ? ? tailings dam failure ? at least 15 people killed, 100 missing; more than 100 houses destroyed
2000, Oct. 11 Inez, Martin County, Kentucky, USA Martin County Coal Corporation (100% A.T. Massey Coal Company, Inc. external link, Richmond, VA (100% Fluor Corp. external link)) coal tailings dam failure from collapse of an underground mine beneath the slurry impoundment (view details) 250 million gallons (950,000 m3) of coal waste slurry released into local streams About 75 miles (120 km) of rivers and streams turned an irridescent black, causing a fish kill along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River and some of its tributaries. Towns along the Tug were forced to turn off their drinking water intakes.
2000, Sep. 8 Aitik mine, Gällivare, Sweden Boliden Ltd. external link copper tailings dam failure from insufficient perviousness of filter drain (view details) release of 2.5 million m3 of liquid into an adjacent settling pond, subsequent release of 1.5 million m3 of water (carrying some residual slurry) from the settling pond into the environment  
2000, Mar. 10 Borsa, Romania Remin S.A.   tailings dam failure after heavy rain 22,000 t of heavy-metal contaminated tailings contamination of the Vaser stream, tributary of the Tisza River.
Romanian Govt. report external link · UNEP report external link (527k PDF)
2000, Jan. 30 Baia Mare, Romania Aurul S.A. (Esmeralda Exploration external link, Australia (50%), Remin S.A. (44.8%)) gold recovery from old tailings tailings dam crest failure after overflow caused from heavy rain and melting snow (view details) 100,000 m3 of cyanide-contaminated liquid contamination of the Somes/Szamos stream, tributary of the Tisza River, killing tonnes of fish and poisoning the drinking water of more than 2 million people in Hungary
1999, Apr. 26 Placer, Surigao del Norte, Philippines Manila Mining Corp. (MMC) gold tailings spill from damaged concrete pipe 700,000 tonnes of cyanide tailings 17 homes buried, 51 hectares of riceland swamped
1998, Dec. 31 Huelva, Spain Fertiberia external link, Foret phosphate dam failure during storm (view details) 50,000 m3 of acidic and toxic water  
1998, Apr. 25 Los Frailes, Aznalcóllar, Spain Boliden Ltd. external link, Canada zinc, lead, copper, silver dam failure from foundation failure (view details) 4-5 million m3 of toxic water and slurry thousands of hectares of farmland covered with slurry
1997, Dec. 7 Mulberry Phosphate, Polk County, Florida, USA Mulberry Phosphates, Inc. external link phosphate phosphogypsum stack failure 200,000 m3 of phosphogypsum process water biota in the Alafia River eliminated
1997, Oct. 22 Pinto Valley, Arizona, USA BHP Copper external link copper tailings dam slope failure external link 230,000 m3 of tailings and mine rock tailings flow covers 16 hectares
1996, Nov. 12 Amatista, Nazca, Peru ? ? liquefaction failure of upstream-type tailings dam during earthquake more than 300,000 m3 of tailings flow runout of about 600 meters, spill into river, croplands contaminated
1996, Aug. 29 El Porco, Bolivia Comsur (62%), Rio Tinto external link (33%) zinc, lead, silver dam failure 400,000 tonnes 300 km of Pilcomayo river contaminated
1996, Mar. 24 Marcopper, Marinduque Island, Philippines Placer Dome Inc. external link, Canada (40%) copper Loss of tailings from storage pit through old drainage tunnel 1.6 million m3 Evacuation of 1200 residents, 18 km of river channel filled with tailings, US$ 80 million damage
1995, Dec. Golden Cross, New Zealand Coeur d'Alène external link, Idaho, USA gold Dam movement of dam containing 3 million tonnes of tailings (continuing) (view details external link) Nil (so far) Nil (so far)
1995, Sep. 2 Placer, Surigao del Norte, Philippines Manila Mining Corp. gold Dam foundation failure 50,000 m3 12 people killed, coastal pollution
1995, Aug. 19 Omai, Guyana Cambior Inc. external link, Canada (65%), Golden Star Resources Inc., Colorado, USA (30%) gold tailings dam failure from internal dam erosion (preliminary report on technical causation) 4.2 million m3 of cyanide slurry 80 km of Essequibo River declared environmental disaster zone (view details external link)
1994, Nov. 19 Hopewell Mine, Hillsborough County, Florida, USA IMC-Agrico external link phosphate dam failure Nearly 1.9 million m3 of water from a clay settling pond spill into nearby wetlands and the Alafia River, Keysville flooded
1994, Oct. 2 Payne Creek Mine, Polk County, Florida, USA IMC-Agrico external link phosphate dam failure 6.8 million m3 of water from a clay settling pond majority of spill contained on adjacent mining area; 500,000 m3 released into Hickey Branch, a tributary of Payne Creek
1994, Oct. Fort Meade, Florida, USA Cargill external link phosphate ? 76,000 m3 of water spill into Peace River near Fort Meade
1994, June IMC-Agrico, Florida, USA IMC-Agrico external link phosphate Sinkhole opens in phosphogypsum stake ? Release of gympsum and water into groundwater
1994, Feb. 22 Harmony, Merriespruit, South Africa Harmony Gold Mines gold Dam wall breach following heavy rain 600,000 m3 tailings traveled 4 km downstream, 17 people killed, extensive damage to residential township
1994, Feb. 14 Olympic Dam, Roxby Downs, South Australia WMC Ltd. copper, uranium leakage of tailings dam during 2 years or more release of up to 5 million m3 of contaminated water into subsoil ?
1993, Oct. Gibsonton, Florida, USA Cargill external link phosphate ? ? Fish killed when acidic water spilled into Archie Creek
1993 Marsa, Peru Marsa Mining Corp. gold dam failure from overtopping ? 6 people killed
1992, Mar. 1 Maritsa Istok 1, near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria ? ash/cinder dam failure from inundation of the beach 500,000 m3 ?
1992, Jan. No.2 tailings pond, Padcal, Luzon, Philippines Philex Mining Corp. copper Collapse of dam wall (foundation failure) 80 million tonnes ?
1991, Aug. 23 Sullivan mine, Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada Cominco Ltd external link lead/zinc dam failure (liquefaction in old tailings foundation during construction of incremental raise) 75,000 m3 the slided material was contained in an adjacent pond
1989, Aug. 25 Stancil, Perryville, Maryland, USA ? sand and gravel dam failure during capping of the tailings after heavy rain 38,000 m3 tailings flowside covered 5000 m2
1988, Apr. 30 Jinduicheng, Shaanxi province, China ? molybdenum breach of dam wall (spillway blockage caused pond level to rise too high) 700,000 m3 approx. 20 people killed
1988, Jan. 19 Tennessee Consolidated No.1, Grays Creek, TN, USA Tennessee Consolidated Coal Co. coal dam wall failure from internal erosion, caused from failure of an abandoned outlet pipe 250,000 m3 ?
1988 Riverview, Florida, USA Gardinier (now Cargill external link) phosphate ? acidic spill Thousands of fish killed at mouth of Alafia River
1987, April 8 Montcoal No.7, Raleigh County, West Virginia, USA Peabody Coal Co. (now Peabody Energyexternal link) coal dam failure after spillway pipe breach 87,000 cubic meters of water and slurry tailings flow 80 km downstream
1986, May Itabirito, Minas Gerais, Brazil Itaminos Comercio de Minerios ? dam wall burst 100,000 tonnes tailings flow 12 km downstream
1986 Huangmeishan, China ? iron dam failure from seepage/slope instability ? 19 people killed
1985, July 19 Stava, Trento, Italy Prealpi Mineraia fluorite dam failure, caused from insufficient safety margins and inadequate decant pipe construction
(view details)
200,000 m3 tailings flow 4.2 km downstream at 90 km/h; 268 people killed, 62 buildings destroyed
(view details)
1985, Mar. 3 Veta de Agua No.1, Chile ? copper dam wall failure, due to liquefaction during earthquake 280,000 m3 tailings flow 5 km downstream
1985, Mar. 3 Cerro Negro No.4, Chile Cia Minera Cerro Negro copper dam wall failure, due to liquefaction during earthquake 500,000 m3 tailings flow 8 km downstream
1985 Olinghouse, Wadsworth, Nevada, USA Olinghouse Mining Co. gold embankment collapse from saturation 25,000 m3 tailings flow 1.5 km downstream
1982, Nov. 8 Sipalay, Negros Occidental, Philippines Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corp. copper dam failure, due to slippage of foundations on clayey soils 28 million tonnes widespread inundation of agricultural land up to 1.5 m high
1981, Dec. 18 Ages, Harlan County, Kentucky, USA Eastover Mining Co. coal dam failure after heavy rain 96,000 m3 coal refuse slurry the slurry wave traveled the Left Fork of Ages Creek 1.3 km downstream, 1 person was killed, 3 homes destroyed, 30 homes damaged, fish kill in Clover Fork of the Cumberland River
1981, Jan. 20 Balka Chuficheva, Lebedinsky, Russia ? iron dam failure 3.5 million m3 tailings travel distance 1.3 km
1980, Oct. 13 Tyrone, New Mexico, USA Phelps Dodge external link copper dam wall breach, due to rapid increase in dam wall height, causing high internal pore pressure 2 million m3 tailings flow 8 km downstream and inundate farmland
1979, July 16 Church Rock, New Mexico, USA United Nuclear uranium dam wall breach, due to differential foundation settlement 370,000 m3 of radioactive water, 1,000 tonnes of contaminated sediment Contamination of Rio Puerco sediments up to 110 km downstream
1979 or earlier (unidentified), British Columbia, Canada ? ? piping in the sand beach of the tailings dam 40,000 m3 of ponded water considerable property damage
1978, Jan. 31 Arcturus, Zimbabwe Corsyn Consolidated Mines gold slurry overflow after continuous rain over several days 30,000 tonnes 1 person killed, extensive siltation to waterway and adjoining rough pasture
1978, Jan. 14 Mochikoshi No.1, Japan Mochikoshi Gold Mining Company gold dam failure, due to liquefaction during earthquake 80,000 m3 1 person killed, tailings flow 7-8 km downstream
1977, Feb. 1 Homestake, Milan, New Mexico, USA Homestake Mining Company external link uranium dam failure, due to rupture of plugged slurry pipeline 30,000 m3 no impacts outside the mine site
1976, Mar. 1 Zlevoto, Yugoslavia ? lead, zinc dam failure, due to high phreatic surface and seepage breakout on the embankment face 300,000 m3 tailings flow reached and polluted nearby river
1975, June Silverton, Colorado, USA ? (metal) dam failure 116,000 tonnes tailings flow slide polluted nearly 100 miles (160 km) of the Animas river and its tributaries; severe property damage; no injuries
1975, Apr. Madjarevo, Bulgaria ? lead, zinc, gold rising of tailings above design level caused overloading of the decant tower and collectors 250,000 m3 ?
1975 Mike Horse, Montana, USA ? lead, zinc dam failure after heavy rain 150,000 m3 ?
1974, Nov. 11 Bafokeng, South Africa ? platinum embankment failure by concentrated seepage and piping through cracks 3 million m3 12 people killed in a mine shaft inundated by the tailings; tailings flow 45 km downstream
1974, Jun. 1 Deneen Mica, North Carolina, USA ? mica dam failure after heavy rain 38,000 m3 tailings released to an adjacent river
1973 (unidentified), Southwestern USA ? copper dam failure from increased pore pressure during construction of incremental raise 170,000 m3 tailings traveled 25 km downstream
1972, Feb. 26 Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, USA Pittston Coal external link coal collapse of tailings dam after heavy rain (view Citizens' Commission report external link) 500,000 m3 the tailings traveled 27 km downstream, 125 people lost their lives, 500 homes were destroyed. Property and highway damage exceeded $65 million. (see details external link)
1971, Dec. 3 Fort Meade, Florida, USA Cities Service Co. phosphate Clay pond dam failure, cause unknown 9 million m3 of clay water tailings traveled 120 km downstream with Peace River, large fish kill
1970 Mufulira, Zambia ? copper liquefaction of tailings, flowing into underground workings some 1 million tons 89 miners killed
1970 Maggie Pie, United Kingdom ? china clay dam failure after raising the embankment and after heavy rain 15,000 m3 tailings spilled 35 meters downstream
1969 or earlier Bilbao, Spain ? ? dam failure (liquefaction) after heavy rain 115,000 m3 major downstream damage and loss of life
1968 Hokkaido, Japan ? ? dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake 90,000 m3 tailings traveled 150 meters downstream
1967, Mar. Fort Meade, Florida, USA Mobil Chemical phosphate dam failure, no details available 250,000 m3 of phosphatic clay slimes, 1.8 million m3 of water spill reaches Peace River, fish kill reported
1967 (unidentified), United Kingdom ? coal dam failure during regrading operations ? tailings flow covered an area of 4 hectares
1966 (unidentified), East Texas, USA ? gypsum dam failure 76,000 - 130,000 m3 of gypsum flow slide traveled 300 meters; no fatalities
1966 Derbyshire, United Kingdom ? coal dam failure from foundation failure 30,000 m3 tailings traveled 100 meters downstream
1966, Oct. 21 Aberfan, Wales, United Kingdom Merthyr Vale Colliery external link coal dam failure (liquefaction) from heavy rain 162,000 m3 the tailings traveled 600 meters, 144 people were killed (view details external link, watch video external link)
1966, May 1 Mir mine, Sgorigrad, Bulgaria ? lead, zinc, copper, silver, (uranium?) dam failure from rising pond level after heavy rains and/or failure of diversion channel 450,000 m3 the tailings wave traveled 8 km to the city of Vratza and destroyed half of Sgorigrad village 1 km downstream, killing 488 people. (View details external link · historic photographs external link)
1965, Mar. 28 Bellavista, Chile ? copper dam failure during earthquake 70,000 m3 tailings traveled 800 meters downstream
1965, Mar. 28 Cerro Negro No.3, Chile ? copper dam failure during earthquake 85,000 m3 tailings traveled 5 km downstream
1965, Mar. 28 El Cobre New Dam, Chile ? copper dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake 350,000 m3 tailings traveled 12 km downstream, destroyed the town of El Cobre and killed more than 200 people
1965, Mar. 28 El Cobre Old Dam, Chile ? copper dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake 1.9 million m3
1965, Mar. 28 La Patagua New Dam, Chile ? copper dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake 35,000 m3 tailings traveled 5 km downstream
1965, Mar. 28 Los Maquis, Chile ? copper dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake 21,000 m3 tailings traveled 5 km downstream
1965 Tymawr, United Kingdom ? coal dam failure from overtopping ? tailings traveled 700 meters downstream, causing considerable damage
1962 (unidentified), Peru ? ? dam failure (liquefaction) during earthquake and after heavy rainfall ? ?
1961 Tymawr, United Kingdom ? coal dam failure, no details available ? tailings traveled 800 meters downstream
tonnes = metric tonnes Sources:
  • Tailings Dam Incidents, U.S. Committee on Large Dams - USCOLD, Denver, Colorado, ISBN 1-884575-03-X, 1994, 82 pages [compilation and analysis of 185 tailings dam incidents]
  • Environmental and Safety Incidents concerning Tailings Dams at Mines: Results of a Survey for the years 1980-1996 by Mining Journal Research Services; a report prepared for United Nations Environment Programme, Industry and Environment external link. Paris, 1996, 129 pages [compilation of 37 tailings dam incidents]
  • Tailings Dams - Risk of Dangerous Occurrences, Lessons learnt from practical experiences, Bulletin 121, Published by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) and International Commission on Large Dams external link (ICOLD), Paris 2001, 144 p. [compilation of 221 tailings dam incidents mainly from the above two publications, and examples of effective remedial measures]