ELI Proposes Framework for Preventing Mining Pollution in Americas

March 2000

The recent mining disaster in Romania, which poisoned several European rivers with toxic lead and cyanide, has once again demonstrated the environmental damage that the industry can cause. Meanwhile, in Latin America, a mining boom is taking place that has seen $35 billion in investment in the last four years alone, most of it from large multinational corporations. Unfortunately, regulations governing mining in the countries of the region are often weak and ineffective. How can Latin America continue to develop its economy without inviting a similar disaster?

The answer is a region-wide approach to mining based on pollution prevention, according to a new ELI report developed in conjunction with environmental organizations in six Latin American countries and Canada. In Pollution Prevention in Mining: A Proposed Framework for the Americas, the Institute provides a comprehensive blueprint for a uniform system of laws and policies throughout the Americas that would create an even playing field for Latin American countries while offering the mining industry a consistent set of standards.

“Pollution prevention should be a strategic management principle for the hard rock mining industry,” said ELI Senior Attorney Susan Bass, Director of the Inter-American Center for Environmental Policy and lead author. “It offers the opportunity to avoid or minimize environmental impacts while also identifying and promoting economy and efficiency in the design and operation of mining facilities. It enhances recovery of minerals while helping to minimize impacts on the environment and preventing the creation of long-term hazards.”

The report provides an overview of the legal and policy tools that can promote pollution prevention in each of the three phases of mining: exploration, active operations, and closure. Pollution prevention in the exploration phase involves requires substantial attention to limiting the extent of disturbance and could mean avoiding some sites altogether. In the operations phase, the report recommends “source reduction” — strategies to reduce or eliminate pollutants at the point of generation. Source reduction substitutes cleaner processes, such as eliminating the use of mercury, cyanides, and acids for extracting metals from ores, and avoids the creation of toxics. The report also recommends recycling of wastes as materials in other industrial processes and recycling of toxic materials through closed-loop processes. Finally, changes in the post-mining configuration of the land can reduce the threat of pollution after mine closure.

To accomplish these goals, the report examines legal and policy tools at the national level, such as environmental impact assessment, permitting, and regulatory standards, as well as policy approaches such as public participation and economic incentives. By combining the best tools with suggested new ones to address gaps or weaknesses in existing laws, the project partners developed a proposed framework for implementation in all American countries.

ELI’s partners in the report include the Fundacion Ambiente y Recursos Naturales in Argentina, the Centro Especializado de Derecho y Politica Ambiental in Bolivia, the Instituto Socioambiental in Brazil, the Comite Nacional Pro Defensa de la Fauna y Flora in Chile, the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental in Mexico, the Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental in Peru, and the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy.

Pollution Prevention in Mining: A Proposed Framework for the Americas can be downloaded for free as a PDF file, or ordered by calling (800) 433-5120 or sending an email to orders@eli.org. For press copies, please contact pressrequest@eli.org.