Brazil: New catastrophic spill from mining dam threatens thousands of lives

Rodrigo Peret OFM

Rodrigo Peret OFM

Source: LMN

Hundreds of people are missing, 37 people have been confirmed dead and more than 24,000 people have been evacuated from the Brazilian town hit by a deadly mudslide unleashed by a ruptured mining dam, as rains raised fears a second dam could collapse.

Campaigners report dangerous water levels at a tailings dam still standing near the iron ore mine owned by Vale SA near Brumadinho in Minas Gerais state.

Richard Solly from the London Mining Network told ICN: "The catastrophic spill from Brazilian company Vale's Brumadinho mining waste dam in Minas Gerais state is the second massive waste dam collapse in Brazil in recent years. The last one was at Mariana, in the same state, in November 2015, at the Samarco iron ore mine owned by Vale and London-listed mining company BHP. The 2015 disaster had a much greater environmental impact, but Friday's disaster seems to have taken perhaps fifteen times as many lives - up to 350 people are still missing and may be dead.

"London Mining Network has been calling for years for stricter regulation of the mining industry, including tightening of standards in mining waste management. The mining industry continues to ignore expert recommendations and research.

"Our colleagues in Brazilian organisation MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams) said of Friday's disaster: "Since the year 2015, numerous complaints have been made about the risk of the dam breaking at the complex, and yet the Córrego do Feijão Mine was approved by the State Council for Environmental Policy in December last year."

Minas Gerais news outlet, O Tempo, reported that Brazilian authorities at the National Mining Agency had categorized Vale's dam as "low risk" for accidents, but "high potential" to cause damage if accidents were to occur.

Payal Sampat, the Mining Director of our US counterpart organisation, Earthworks, said: "Vale's Brumadinho mining waste dam failure is all the more tragic because the mining industry knows how to prevent them, yet failed to act. 200 people are missing and some presumed dead because Vale and the rest of global mining industry haven't adopted the Mount Polley Independent Expert Panel's recommendations made in response to a similar catastrophic mining waste dam failure in 2014. These recommendations have been globally recognized, including by the United Nations Environment Programme's 2017 assessment of tailings dams failures, and by the multi-sector Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance standard. Until these recommendations are adopted and independently verified, preventable mining disasters will continue to occur wherever the mining industry operates. Independent research that analyzes mine waste dam failures since the turn of the 20th century reveals that these catastrophic failures are occurring more frequently. It also projects the trend will continue, driven by economic factors." Nonetheless, after the 2015 Samarco disaster, the International Council on Mining Metals published mining waste impoundment guidance that ignored the globally recognised recommendations by the Mount Polley Panel.

Our colleague Rodrigo Peret OFM, of the Churches and Mining Network in Brazil, who is is the area of the spill, said: "Three years after Mariana, this new crime of the mining company Vale is evidence of the way the authorities and mining companies systematically ignore the constant denunciations made by community, civil society organisations and social movements. The mining company Vale remains unpunished, with irresponsible and illegal conduct covered up by public authorities. This new disaster shows that mining is based on a development model which is unsustainable and lethal."


Mount Polley Independent Expert Panel's recommendations:
United Nations Environment Programme's 2017 assessment

Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance standard.

Independent research

International Council on Mining Metals

London Mining Network:

Tags: Mining, Brazil, Richard Solly, London Mining Network, Rodrigo Peret OFM, Vale SA, Brumadinho, Rodrigo Peret

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