Resources by Topic

Resources by Topic: Tailings Dams


Tailings dams are structures built to impound mining waste and the term has also been used to describe impoundments for other industrial by-products. These waste and by-products, often referred to as slimes, tails, leach residue, slickens or ash, are generally fine sized particles mixed with water and sluiced to the impoundment for disposal. The slurry typically remains saturated during operation of the impoundment and may remain so indefinitely after operation ceases. Most tailings contain environmental contaminates which may be naturally occurring minerals and compounds or additives to facilitate the mining and industrial processes. These contaminates may be released from the impoundment via modes other than embankment failure and they retain their hazard potential in perpetuity.

There has been an increase in the size of tailings dams, with some now ranked among the largest dams in the world. While the methods used for the design and construction of tailings dams are similar to typical embankment dams, tailings dams are required for the storage of unwanted by-products, desirably at minimum cost. Accordingly, construction may be completed in phases over many years with multiple changes in engineers, supervisors or ownership. This phased construction requires unique spillway designs and may incorporate unconventional embankment construction methods with either soil or waste material. Additionally, long term, low cost maintenance solutions should be addressed in the design process.


To be proficient in this area one needs to understand and/or have experience in the following areas:

  • Geotechnical/Seismic investigations and analysis
  • Liner systems (clay or geosynthetic)
  • Hydrogeology (groundwater modeling and monitoring)
  • Environmental regulations (Water treatment facility; Landfill facility)
  • Dam Safety regulations
  • Spillway hydraulics & structural design
  • Liquefaction Potential of Slurry (Non-Newtonian fluids properties; Insitu testing of tailings [shear vane])
  • Dam Break Analyses (Hydraulic Modeling (for initial water filled impoundment); Slurry Flow Modeling (for slurry filled impoundment)
  • Emergency Action Plans
  • Embankment construction methods and sequencing (Upstream facing; Downstream facing)
  • Closure/Abandonment procedures and plans

Classroom and Web-Based Training

Search the ASDSO Training Directory.

Guidelines and Suggested References

Some of the most highly recommended resources in this area are listed below. For additional resources, search the ASDSO Bibliography. Suggested search terms: coal, tailings dams, water quality.

  • InfoMine - Database of mining publications includes numerous free technical papers and presentations on tailings dams.

International Commission on Large Dams

Mining Safety and Health Administration

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

International Commission on Large Dams

  • ICOLD and United Nations Environment Programme. Industry & Environment Office. A guide to tailings dams and impoundments : design, construction, use and rehabilitation (1996)
  • Monitoring of Tailings Dams. Review and Recommendations (1996)
  • Tailings dams : risk of dangerous occurrences : lessons learnt from practical experiences (2001)
Research Projects
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