Omai gold mine tailings dam, Guyana


In August 1995, the tailings dam at the Omai Mine in Guyana failed, spilling mine tailings containing cyanide, heavy metals and other pollutants into the Essequibo River. About 23,000 people live in the region surrounding the river, and they rely on the river for drinking water, bathing and fishing. A public interest group filed a class action lawsuit against Cambior in 1997 in Québec Superior Court seeking damages on behalf of the Guyanese victims of the spill. The Omai Mine is wholly owned by Omai Gold Mines Limited (OGML). At the time of the spill, Cambior owned 65% of this company and the balance was owned by Golden Star Resources and the Government of Guyana. In 2002, Cambior acquired Golden Star’s interest in OGML, thereby obtaining a 95% ownership interest in the company.

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Basic Data
NameOmai gold mine tailings dam, Guyana
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Specific Commodities
Project Details and Actors
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population23000
Company Names or State EnterprisesCambior from Canada
Omai Gold Mines Limited (OGML) from Guyana - a consortium between a Canadian company and the government of Guyana (Guyana)
Golden Star Resources from Canada
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationLawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The Québec Superior Court dismissed the case in August 1998, on the grounds that the courts in Guyana were in a better position to hear the case. A lawsuit against Cambior was filed in Guyana, but it was dismissed by the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Guyana in 2002. A new suit was filed against Cambior in 2003 in Guyana again seeking damages for the effects of the 1995 spill. In October 2006, the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Guyana ordered the dismissal of the 2003 action and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the defendants’ legal costs.
Sources and Materials

'Guyana high court dismisses $2B Omai Gold Mines tailings accident suit', Dorothy Kosich, , 1 Nov 2006
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'Cambior in fighting mode', Nicole Mordant, , 27 May 2003
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(all available at the BHR website: )
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[DOC] 'Global Mining Update: Quebec Court Decides to Dismiss Proceedings, Tailings Dam Collapse to be Litgated in Guyana', Stikeman Elliott, Apr 1999

'Coming Home to Roost', Philip Preville, Montreal Mirror, 27 Mar 1997

'Cyanide From Mine Threatens Guyana River', Phil Davison, Independent [UK], 23 Aug 1995

Cambior: 'Cambior Inc: Omai Lawsuit Struck and Dismissed', 31 Oct 2006

Cambior: 'Cambior: Dismissal of OMAI-Related Class Action Suit in Guyana', 22 Feb 2002

Cambior: 'Cambior Secures Dismissal of Omai-Related Class Action', 17 Aug 1998

Failure of the Omai Tailings Dam (attached pdf file)


The Free Library
[click to view]

Mineweb, Guyana high court dismisses $2B Omai Gold Mines tailings accident suit
[click to view]

No dirty Gold
[click to view]

Media Links

Poison in the Lifeline movie:
[click to view]

Other Documents

“Failure of the Omai Tailings Dam”, by Steven G. Vick
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorIrene Pietropaoli
Last update08/04/2014