Commission reiterates EU mine safety pledge

Expansion of IPPC, Seveso II, possible; more research needed into mine tailings in accession countries

The European Commission today published a communication on policy options to improve the environmental safety of mining in the EU and accession countries. It adds detail to an earlier communication (ENDS Daily 4 May), and includes a new option: creation of a best available technology reference (Bref) document to cover the management of tailings dams.

Both papers were prompted by the Baia Mare cyanide spill earlier this year (ENDS Daily 10 February) and the similar Doñana spill in Spain in 1998 (ENDS Daily 27 April 1998). Today's outlines three ways in which EU policy could be altered: revision of the Seveso II directive on preventing industrial accidents involving dangerous substances; a mining-industry-specific policy initiative such as a directive; or formulation of a Bref under the 1996 integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) directive.

Work on the Bref could begin before the end of the year, says the communication, and be completed by autumn 2002. It should deal both with reduction of "everyday" pollution from tailings dams and accident prevention. The Commission acknowledges that the scope of the IPPC directive may need to be widened in order to cover all EU sites with tailings dams. Industry association Euromines said in May that in principle it was willing to see the mining industry included under IPPC (ENDS Daily 18 May).

The Commission is less specific about the likelihood of a specific directive on mine waste management, promising further consultation next year. A study into management of tailing ponds containing non-ferrous metal minerals in the EU was launched last year. This has now been extended to include six accession countries and should be completed by the end of the year, but the communication warns that conclusions on accession countries will not be comprehensive. Fuller information is to be sought by researchers working on a second project, which will assess the environmental impact of mining waste in candidate countries.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the communication.

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