Report on Finnish mine leak calls out company, officials and media

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic

An investigation into the 2012 Talvivaara mine leak in eastern Finland has blamed the company, officials and even the press for mishandling the accident.

Investigators have completed their probe of Finland’s biggest environmental disaster in recent years, the leak from the Talvivaara mine in late 2012.

The Safety Investigation Authority’s report, published on Monday, details the events that led to massive releases of toxic waste water from the mine into the surrounding forests. The report goes into the reasons for the spill and its environmental impact -- but does not take a stand on legal responsibility. It calls for better cooperation among authorities in the future -- and stricter surveillance of mining operations.

“Decentralized, complicated and inflexible”

Some 42.4 million cubic feet of water and sediment containing heavy metals leaked, with nearly 8.5 million cubic feet pouring outside of the mine area. The spill from a gypsum pond followed two earlier leaks. The report says that the pond’s structure was probably weakened by these earlier incidents, but that the company did not check them carefully enough. The gypsum pond leaked again in April 2013, but this time the waste water was kept within the mine’s property.

The report also gives poor marks for the official handling of the crisis, saying it was hampered by a “decentralized, complicated and inflexible permit and monitoring processes” and by the fact that no single agency took a clear overall leadership role.

The media also comes in for criticism. The report suggests that the magnitude of the accident was exaggerated by calling it an environmental catastrophe -- a view that was backed up by non-government organization and civic movements, which staged many demonstrations. The Safety Investigation Authority denies that this was a major disaster that would have threatened people’s health.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.