(FILE) View of a processing plant this on July 18, 2019 in Tundayme (Ecuador). Ecuador began its megamining with the beginning of the extraction of copper concentrate at the Cóndor-Mirador mine, located in the Tundayme sector, in the southeast of the country's Amazon, near the border with Peru. EFE/José Jácome

Warnings of possible environmental disaster in Ecuador’s largest copper mine

Quito, Oct 28 (EFE). – A group of environmental organizations and human rights defenders presented technical studies that indicate a possible risk of collapse and bursting of the tailings dams of the Mirador copper mine, the largest in Ecuador.

The possible rupture or collapse of the two dams would cause an environmental disaster that experts compare to the Brumadinho disaster in Brazil in 2019.

According to the authors of the study, Mirador’s two tailings dams, called Quimi and Tundayme, are at risk of collapse due to the high seismicity of the area and the weak soils beneath them.

There are also risks due to high precipitation, high topographic relief, proximity to surface water, dam height, and large volumes of tailings.

According to the study’s projections, in the event of a rupture, a wave of toxic material would destroy everything in its path for several kilometers, including various nearby indigenous communities, which would have only a few minutes to try to evacuate.

Engineer Noemí González, of Hydraulic Projects – Riada Engineering, warned that the mass of mining waste could leave several towns and communities buried under thirty meters of tailings, in addition to contaminating the Quimi River basin.

Located in the southern Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, bordering Peru, Mirador is Ecuador’s first large-scale legal open-pit copper mine.

It is located in an area of mountainous forest, along with the two tailings dams where the highly polluting chemical waste is stored.

400 million cubic meters

The Quimi tailings dam is the oldest and has a total capacity of 12.1 million cubic meters, Tundayme, the second dam, blocks a valley and is designed to reach up to 260 meters high and store more than 380 million cubic meters, explained Steven Emerman, Ph.D. in geophysics and international consultant.

For Emerman, Quimi was built without complying with environmental regulations because it was located in an “upstream” area and with a slope of 45 degrees, the maximum allowed, when it should have been less.

In addition, the lawyer for the Pachamama Foundation stated that the indigenous communities of the area, mostly Shuar, were not consulted about the construction of “a mine that produces an immense amount of waste and two gigantic dams that prevent two rivers from following their natural course.”

For the expert, there are “gigantic and enormous risks to human life and to the integrity of ecosystems, biodiversity and Ecuador’s cultural heritage.

For this reason, he hopes that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will intervene in defense of the fundamental rights of the Ecuadorian people.

“The risk has not been duly taken into account by the State. There is a lack of compliance by the State with its basic obligations, which puts the lives of entire communities at risk, especially the Shuar Arutam people who live on the banks of the potentially affected rivers,” the lawyer said.

“It will devastate whole communities”

The president of the Shuar Arutam people, Jaime Palomino, pointed out that if the tailings dams of the Mirador project burst, “lives will be lost and entire communities will be devastated.

“The ecology and crops will be destroyed, rivers will be polluted. I hope the government will take immediate action to prevent the disaster that could happen in our territory,” said Palomino.

The Mirador mine will begin operations in 2019 by Ecuacorriente, a consortium of Chinese state-owned companies formed by China Railway Construction Copper Crown Investment and Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holdings Limited.

Together with the Fruta del Norte gold mine, Mirador is behind the “boom” in Ecuador’s mining exports, which reached a record $2.7 billion in 2022 and ranked as the country’s fourth most exported product.

The estimated resources of Mirador are 860 million tons and the copper metal content is 4,516 million tons. EFE fgg/mcd