Tailings dam spill at Chinese molybdenum miner threatens local water supply

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang said a tailings dam leak at a molybdenum mine over the weekend threatened to contaminate the local water supply and that it had launched an emergency response.

No casualties were reported, according to a report from the Heilongjiang Daily posted on the Heilongjiang government website.

Tailings dams are the most common waste disposal method for mining firms. China’s Ministry of Emergency Management said only this month it would cut down on their use to reduce safety risks and ease pressure on the environment.

The collapse of a Vale SA tailings dam in Brazil in January 2019 killed more than 250 people.

On Saturday, water containing waste molybdenum ore flowed out of a Yichun Luming Mining Co Ltd pond for tailings – the crushed remnants of ore once valuable minerals have been extracted.

A nearby water plant at risk of contamination was shut down as a result, according to the Heilongjiang Daily report.

As of 1300 local time (0500 GMT) on Sunday, the danger was under control, it added.

“It is necessary to find out the cause and make thorough rectification to ensure that such accidents do not occur again,” the report cited provincial officials as saying, noting that vice environment minister Zhai Qing had also visited the site.

Unlisted Yichun Luming, a subsidiary of state-run China Railway Resources Group, did not answer calls seeking comment and did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Its Luming mine can process 15 million tonnes of molybdenum ore annually, according to the company’s website.

Molybdenum is a silvery metal used to make stainless steel and tools. China accounted for around 45% of mined molybdenum supply globally in 2019, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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