Ministry of Energy Ecuador says small tailings collapse, communities denounce river contamination

QUITO, Jul 3 (Reuters) – Ecuador’s energy ministry confirmed on Friday the collapse of a small tailings plant at a beneficiation plant located in the Andean province of Azuay, which caused mineral sediments to contaminate a river near the plant.

The incident occurred when a retaining wall of the Armijos tailings station, operated by the Ecuadorian company Austro Gold and located in the Camilo Ponce Enriquez area in the south of the country, collapsed causing the escape of the mineral residue from an adjacent creek, said the ministry.

“One of the immediate measures in the area will be the placement of seals prohibiting mining activities at the beneficiation plant,” he added in a statement, without releasing further details of the incident.

The mining authority initiated an administrative process to establish sanctions against the company, which could include a declaration of expiration of the mining right.

“It is a small tailings station, but the level of contamination (…) does not allow me to accept in any way that there is no underlying root,” deputy mines minister Fernando Benalcázar told a local media outlet. “We will be inflexible, sharp and radical, we are going to the bottom,” he insisted.

Ecuador expects to launch this month a guideline for the management of tailings deposits with stricter standards in their design, construction and operation.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Austro Gold.

The local authorities of the Camilo Ponce Enriquez canton, a traditionally mining area, said that the company had not complied with the protocols and that the collapse caused the sediments to contaminate the river, one of the main tributaries for various communities in the area.

“We verified that there was a collapse of the pool and all this material, about 50 tons, went down the mountain until they reached the Tenguel river,” city commissioner Cristian Tomalá told reporters.

Ecuador develops its mining on a large scale and since last year exports gold and copper from its two largest mines, but also maintains small-scale mining and artisanal mining in the southern provinces of the country.

(Report by Alexandra Valencia, Edited by Manuel Farías)

Written by Argentina News

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