Geotechnical & Geological Engineering

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 219–248 | Cite as

Catastrophe revisited – disastrous flow failures of mine and municipal solid waste



Catastrophic flow failures have occurred with alarming frequency in mine tailings dams and dumps of discards and other mine waste. In recent years, catastrophic flow failures have also occurred in dumps of municipal solid waste and even in what were intended to be carefully controlled and well-engineered landfills. Apart from the environmental devastation caused by these flows, they are also dangerous to human life and society. Examples include the Buffalo Creek disaster in the USA in 1972 (Vick, Planning, Design and Analysis of Tailings Dams, Wiley, 1983) that killed 118 people, made 4000 homeless and destroyed 50 million US dollars worth of property and facilities. The flow slide that occurred in the Umraniye– Hekimbasi refuse dump in Turkey in 1993 (Kocasoy and Curi, Waste Management and Research, 13, 1995, 305) killed 39 people, destroying their homes in the process. This paper will briefly review some of the more notable flow slides in waste materials, analyzing conditions necessary for a flow failure to occur and pointing to ways of preventing this type of failure by a combination of sound design and operating procedures.


flow failure mine waste municipal solid waste tailings impoundments 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bishop, A. W. 1973The stability of tips and spoil heapsQuarterly Journal of Engineering Geology6335376Google Scholar
  2. Blight, G. E 1990The effect of dynamic loading on underground fill in South African gold minesBlucher, E. eds. De Mello Tribute VolumeSao PauloBrazil3744Google Scholar
  3. Blight, G. E. 1997Destructive mudflows as a consequence of tailings dyke failuresProceedings Institution of Civil Engineers, Geotechnical Engineering125918Google Scholar
  4. Blight, G. E 2000Management and operational background to three tailings dam failures in South AfricaHustrulid, W. A.McCarter, M. K.Zyl, J. A. eds. Slope Stability in Surface MiningSociety for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, Inc.Littleton, CO, USA383390Google Scholar
  5. Blight, G. E. (2003) Quantified comparisons of disposal of thickened and unthickened tailings, Tailings and Mine Waste ’03, Swets and Zeitlinger, Lisse, Netherlands, pp. 63–71Google Scholar
  6. Blight, G. E. (2004) A flow failure in a municipal solid waste landfill – the failure at Bulbul, South Africa, A.W. Skempton Memorial Conference, London, UK, p. 12, in pressGoogle Scholar
  7. Blight, G. E., Robinson, M. J. and Diering, J. A. C. 1981 The flow of slurry from a breached tailing dam, Journal of South African Inst. Mining and Metallurgy, January, 1–8Google Scholar
  8. Blight, G. E., Mbande, C 1996Waste management and problems in developing countriesThomas-Hope, E. eds. Solid Waste Management: Critical Issues for Developing CountriesCanoe Press, University of the West IndiesJamaica, West Indies1726Google Scholar
  9. Blight, G. E., Troncoso, J. H. and Fourie, A. B. (2000) Issues in the geotechnics of mining wastes and tailings, In: GeoEng. 2000 Int. Conf. on Geotechnical and Geological Engineering, Melbourne, Australia, Vol. 1, pp. 1253–1285Google Scholar
  10. Brink, D., Day, P. W. and du Preez, L. (1999) Failure and remediation of Bulbul Drive landfill: Kwazulu–Natal, South Africa. In: Proceedings Sardinia ’99, Cagliari, Italy, pp. 555–562Google Scholar
  11. Caicedo, B., Giraldo, E., Yamin, L 2002The landslide of Dona Juana landfill in Bogota A case studyde Mello, L. G.Almeida, M. A. A. eds. Environmental Geotechnics (4th ICEG)BalkemaLisse, Netherlands171175Google Scholar
  12. Castro, G: Liquefaction of sands, Ph.D. thesis, Havard University, 1969Google Scholar
  13. Dawson, R. F., Morgenstern, N. R., Stokes, A. W. 1998Liquefaction flowslides in Rocky Mountain coal mine waste dumpsCanadian Geotechnical Journal35328343Google Scholar
  14. Dobry, R. and Alvares, L. (1967) Seismic failures in Chilean tailings dams, J. Soil Mech. & Foundation Engng. Div., ASCE, 93(SM6), 237–260Google Scholar
  15. Fahey, M., Newson, T. A. and Fujiyasu (2002) Engineering with Tailings, Environmental Geotechnics, In: L. G. deMello, M. A. A. Almeida (eds.), 4th ICEG, Balkema, Lisse, Netherlands, Vol. 2, pp. 947–973Google Scholar
  16. Fourie, A. B., Blight, G. E., Papageorgiou, G. 2001Static liquefaction as a possible explanation for the Merriespruit tailings dam failureCan. Geotech. J.38707719Google Scholar
  17. Gandolla, M., Gabner, E. and Leoni, R. (1979) Stability problems with compacted landfills: The example of Sarajevo, ISWA Journal, 75–80Google Scholar
  18. Hendron, D. M., Ferandez, G. and Prommer, P. J. (1999) Investigation of the cause of the 27 September 1997 slope failure at the Dona Juana landfill, In: Proceedings Sardinia ’99, Cagliari, Italy, pp. 545–554Google Scholar
  19. HMSO: Report of the tribunal appointed to enquire into the disaster at Aberfan on October 21, 1966, HMSO, London, UK, 1967Google Scholar
  20. International Commission on Large Dams1996A Guide to Tailings Dams and Impoundments, Bulletin 106International Commission on Large DamsParis, FranceGoogle Scholar
  21. International Council on Metals in the Environment, In: Proceedings of the International Workshop on managing the risks of tailings disposal, Stockholm, Sweden, 1997Google Scholar
  22. Jennings, J. E. (1997) The failure of a slimes dam at Bafokeng, Mechanisms of failure and associated design considerations, The Civil Engineer in South Africa, June, 135–141Google Scholar
  23. Kocasoy, G., Curi, K. 1995The Ümraniye–Hekimbasi open dump accidentWaste Manage. Res.13305314Google Scholar
  24. Miao, T., Liu, Z., Niu, Y. 2001A sliding block model for run-out prediction of high-speed landslidesCan. Geotech. J.38217226Google Scholar
  25. Shakesby, R. A., Whitlow, J. R. 1991Failure of a mine waste dump in Zimbabwe: Causes and consequencesEnviron. Geol. Water Sci.18143153Google Scholar
  26. Singh, S. and Murphy, B. J. Evaluation of the stability of sanitary landfills, In: A. Landva and G. D. Knowles (eds.), Geotechnics of Waste Fills–Theory and Practice, ASTM STP 1070, American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, USA, pp. 240–258Google Scholar
  27. Stuart, R. J., Holmes, T. C. and Jurcevic, M. (2003) Influence of tailings dam settlement on decant towers and pipelines, Tailings and Mine Waste ’03, Swets and Zeitlinger, Lisse, Netherlands, pp. 95–100Google Scholar
  28. Vick, S. G. 1983Planning, Design and Analysis of Tailings DamsWileyNew York, USAGoogle Scholar
  29. Vilar, O. M. and Carvalho, M. F. (2002) Shear strength properties of municipal solid waste, In: L. G. de Mello, M. A. A. Almeida (eds.), Environmental Geotechnics, 4th ICEG, Balkema, Lisse, Netherlands, pp. 59–64Google Scholar
  30. Wagner, F. M., Strydom, K. and Craig, H. (1997) The tailings dam flow failure at Merriespruit, South Africa – causes and consequences, In: Tailings and Mine Waste ’97, Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands, pp. 657–666Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations