Mirador Mine: An Impending Ecocide Disaster in the Amazon

The Mirador mining operation in Ecuador is building one of the tallest tailings dams in the world. At 260m high, the dam wall is being constructed using construction methods illegal in many countries, retaining effluent and chemicals toxic to all life on our planet. Triggers such as high rainfall and earthquakes, common to the region, will cause the tailings dam to collapse, sending a wall of toxic effluent into the rivers, flooding the Amazon basin and reaching into the Atlantic Ocean. An inevitable ecocide of mammoth proportions.


Spanish Version:


The Situation

  • Back in 2012 President Correa of Ecuador signed the country’s first ever large-scale mining contract for Chinese owned Ecuacorriente to invest $1.4 billion in the El Mirador mining project in the headwaters of the Amazon River, some 6,700 Km from the Atlantic mouth of the Amazon. This is now Ecuador’s first open pit mega-mine and is located in an internationally recognized hotspot of biodiversity, the Cordillera del Condor.
  • The mine began operations in June 2019, crushing and processing sulphide rocks which when crushed extrude sulphuric acid and heavy metals. Mercury and cyanide are used to extract copper and gold. The two Mirador Mine open pit mining concessions extend over 9,230 hectares of pristine rainforest, belonging to the Shuar Nation.
  • Two dams for toxic mine waste are under construction, at present being filled with 60,000 tons of rock extracted per day, with an increased production raising to 120,00 tons per day. The dams are being constructed to hold more than 400 million cubic meters of deadly toxic waste.



The Problem

  • The problem is these dams have been built using a technology known as “Upstream Dam Construction” (banned in Peru, Chile, and Brazil, and for new dams in Ecuador). Cheaper to build, the upstream dams are more dangerous than alternative technologies, because their walls are constructed upstream using dried tailings rather than other more expensive and safer techniques using untreated stone and earth, known as centre line and downstream construction.
  • Visual inspection in 2018 of the dam walls by Dr. Steven Emerman, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Mine Tailings Failure Database, has revealed the perilous gradient of the Quimi Dam wall at an angle of 45 degrees which in engineering terms is known as the critical angle of collapse. The Tundayme Dam is being built at a gradient of 1.5 meters horizontal to 1 meter vertical. An accepted normality is of a gradient of 2 meters horizontal to one meter vertical.
  • Pablo Duque, who is a senior Ecuadorian mining engineer, is entirely in agreement with Dr. Emerman. In context, the bare minimum gradient is 1 up 2 across, while the US Army Corps of Engineers states the safe gradient is 1 up and 5 across, in other words a shallow slope, with plenty of support.



The Consequences
The Mirador mine dams, known as Quimi (63 meters high) and Tundayme (the world’s second tallest at 260 meters high), fall into the Extreme Risk Category. Extreme risk refers to the extreme risk posed to humanity, infrastructure and the environment should the dams collapse.
An earthquake of sufficient magnitude to cause liquefaction and collapse of both the dam walls and the foundations is cited within the Environmental Impact Assessment as a probability within the 25-year life of the mine.
Other causes for collapse relate to Internal erosion, causing rupture of the dam walls, overtopping of the dam owing to excessive rainfall and landslips.
These dams will fail. It’s only a matter of time, just as many other similar dams have collapsed in other parts of the world, for similar reasons. To date, the worst example is the Fundao (or Mariana) dam failure in Brazil which in November 2015 released 43.7 million cubic metres of toxic waste travelling 670 km to the Atlantic, killing 19 people, displacing hundreds, and creating a humanitarian crisis.
Yet, the catastrophic failure of the Mirador dams will be much worse – at least by the factor of 9.

  • The collapse will release up to 390 million cubic metres of toxic sludge, containing heavy metals, sulfuric acid, cyanide, arsenic, and mercury. These pollutants will destroy all life in the river valleys leading down into the Amazon Basin.
  • At the worst-case scenario, a first wave of sludge, inconceivably 260 meters high, will break into the River Quimi at an initial speed of 180 km/h. This will flow down the River Zamorra killing an estimated 1,500 people in the first fifteen minutes.
  • After two and a half hours this toxic waste will meet the 1.5-billion-ton freshwater reservoir on the River Santiago, feeding Ecuador’s largest hydro-electric scheme. Effectively this will poison this freshwater with arsenic, cadmium, mercury, cyanide, heavy metals and sulphuric acid.
  • Afterwards, the remaining 6,000km of the Amazon down to the Atlantic Ocean will be polluted with this toxicity killing and displacing thousands of people.
  • The toxicity of the water will create bio accumulation and cancerous death throughout the chains of life extending the length of the Amazon,
  • Cities along the Amazon River will suffer severe water shortage as their water supply will be polluted.
  • The ecosystems of the Amazon basin, with over 4,000 species of plants and 2,500 species of fish, will be irrevocably damaged with direct poisoning and a bio-accumulation of toxins throughout all life forms leading to a slow cancerous death.
  • The Amazon – “the lungs of the world”, as we know it – will suffer irreversible damage. This will be an ecocide disaster of proportions never seen before on our planet.



What can we do?

  • Firstly, we are seeking a legal injunction to force the Mirador mine to stop operations whilst a full safety inspection of the two dams is undertaken. If there was nothing to hide, this should be straightforward, however there has been great resistance. Billions of dollars are at stake.
  • Secondly, we are seeking an international campaign of emails, and letters, and peaceful protests to address the Ecuadorian Administration, the Ecuadorian National Assembly and Ecuadorian embassies across the world. We need to let the decision makers know that the world is watching.
  • Thirdly, we are asking you to donate towards furthering our campaign, to assist lawyers working on the case in the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Costa Rica and legal challenges raised in Ecuador. Your funding will also help us in mounting media campaigns to highlight this appalling situation.
  • When we have achieved our goals, any excess funds will be used to support Amazon indigenous people and for similar campaigns, where mapping, publicity and legal work can help local communities preserve their cultures and natural environment.

Visit www.ProtectEcuador.org
Thank you.