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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.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Omai 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:Gold

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:23000
Company names or state enterprises:Cambior 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

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[DOC] 'Global Mining Update: Quebec Court Decides to Dismiss Proceedings, Tailings Dam Collapse to be Litgated in Guyana', Stikeman Elliott, Apr 1999

'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

'Guyana high court dismisses $2B Omai Gold Mines tailings accident suit', Dorothy Kosich, , 1 Nov 2006

(all available at the BHR website: )

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

'Cambior in fighting mode', Nicole Mordant, , 27 May 2003

Failure of the Omai Tailings Dam (attached pdf file)

Mineweb, Guyana high court dismisses $2B Omai Gold Mines tailings accident suit

No dirty Gold

The Free Library

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Poison in the Lifeline movie:

Other documents

“Failure of the Omai Tailings Dam”, by Steven G. Vick

Meta information

Contributor:Irene Pietropaoli
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:837