Read more
About us
Read more
The Difference Makers
Read more
Read more
Read more
2019 Annual Results
Annual Results 2019 overview
Main Content


Extracting and processing ore involves significant quantities of residue material – including tailings.

As the world’s demand for raw materials has grown at an accelerating pace in recent decades, and as the grades of many ores have decreased over time, so the volumes of this residue material have increased, exponentially.

Here we talk about what tailings are, how we manage them safely and provide details of our tailings storage facilities around the world.

Themba Mkhwanazi

Introduction from Themba Mkhwanazi

 At Kumba, we have confidence in the integrity of the four tailings storage facilities that Kumba manages in South Africa’s Northern Cape province which are subject to the highest global safety and stewardship standards and are operated in accordance with the South African Mandatory Code of Practice on Mine Residue deposits as stipulated by the Department of Mineral Resources.

Themba Mkhwanazi

Themba MkhwanaziChief Executive Officer

Download full statement

Subject to the paragraphs below, I confirm on behalf of the company that the information presented is true to the best of my knowledge, based on Kumba Iron Ore Limited (“Kumba”)’s, technical and review systems, as at May 2019.

The information contained herein speaks only as of that date and Kumba expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to update the information contained herein due to a change in circumstances or otherwise.

This information is made available for information purposes only. It is not intended to amount to any form of advice, recommendation or information on which any party is intended to rely. Reference is made to Kumba’s annual report and other public disclosures by SENS that we may make from time to time. To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, neither Kumba nor any of its directors, officers, employees or consultants accepts responsibility or liability for any loss or damage of whatever nature (direct, indirect, consequential, or other) whether arising in contract, tort or otherwise, which may arise as a result of use of or reliance upon any information contained herein.

The information presented includes forward-looking statements. By their nature, such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results to differ from what is expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.

What are tailings?

Our definition

Tailings are the materials left over following the processing of mined ore that separates the valuable metals or minerals from the host rock. Tailings are not the same as waste rock, the latter being soil or rock or other material that covers or surrounds an orebody and that is displaced during mining but is not processed.

What is a tailings storage facility?

Our definition

Tailings storage facilities (TSF) play a major role in many mining operations around the world. A TSF is a highly engineered structure which consists of one or more tailings dams, with embankments designed to permanently store the tailings.

Every individual dam is unique and is designed, built and operated to specifications that are tailored to the physical nature of the tailings material itself, and a number of other factors.

Anglo American’s Technical Standard (Overview)

We completely revised and updated our technical standard for TSF safety management in early 2014. The standard is updated as appropriate and goes beyond regulatory and other industry requirements in all host jurisdictions. This mandatory global standard addresses the long-recognised principal risk that TSFs pose, sets minimum requirements for design criteria, monitoring, inspection and surveillance, and was peer-reviewed by international specialists.

Our standards

How are tailings dams constructed?

There are six fundamental types of tailings dams, each constructed using different techniques:


The upstream method starts with the construction of a starter dam. Tailings will naturally separate so that coarse material settles closest to the starter dam, while liquid and fine material settles furthest away. As the level of the materials rises, the crest of the dam is raised “upstream”, using the support of the previous dam raise and the tailings beach area.



The downstream method begins in most cases with a starter dam that has a low permeability zone or liner to control and minimise water loss. In some cases it also serves to initially store water for start-up of the plant.

Tailings are placed behind the dam and the embankment is raised by building the new wall on top of the downstream slope of the previous section.



The centreline method sits between the upstream and downstream construction methods. Like the upstream method, the tailings are discharged on top of the dam to form a beach behind the dam wall. When the dam is raised, material is placed on both the tailings beach and the existing embankment.



A hybrid dam is a combination of the tailings dam types that are defined as either Downstream, Upstream or Centreline. Some tailings dams have changed construction type in the past and now are defined as 'hybrid'.


A landform dam is one that is typically a very old legacy tailings dam that has dried out to the point where it does not constitute a wet dam anymore, nor is considered a dam or containment structure at all. The main features, such as the outer wall slopes, may also be altered or flattened by erosion to the point that the facility is unrecognisable in comparison to its previous engineered state.


Water retaining type of dams are built using selected imported fill materials from designated borrow areas and quarries, placed in a controlled manner in lifts, typically resulting in an embankment structure that is designed to store water and tailings in direct contact. Water retaining structures may have specific engineered structural features, such as riprap, a low permeability liner or core zone, internal filters, and drainage system, to safely manage stored water and seepage flow through the dam body.

Anglo American managed operations – Summary by country