Tag Archives: Brazil

Brazil bans upstream mining dams after deadly Vale disaster

FILE PHOTO: A member of a rescue team walks next to a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, in Brumadinho, Brazil February 13, 2019. Picture taken February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves/File Photo

Marta Nogueira | Reuters | 20 February 2019

Brazil’s government on Monday banned new upstream mining dams and ordered the decommissioning of all such dams by 2021, targeting the type of structure that burst last month in the town of Brumadinho, killing hundreds of people.

Those dams, which hold mining byproducts, are cheaper to build but present higher security risks because their walls are constructed over a base of muddy mining waste rather than on solid ground.

In January, one such dam operated by miner Vale SA, the world’s largest iron ore miner, collapsed, unleashing a wave of mud that bulldozed nearby structures and has likely killed more than 300 people.

The move by Brazil’s mining regulator, which would impact some 50 upstream mining dams in Brazil’s mining heartland of Minas Gerais state alone, is the strongest governmental response yet to the disaster.

The new regulation orders mining companies to present independently-produced decommission plans by August and ensure that those plans are executed by 2021.

The death toll rose to 169 people as of Sunday night, with 141 people yet to be located.

Several mid-level company executives have been arrested in the wake of the disaster, which comes less than four years after a similar deadly collapse at another upstream dam co-owned by Vale and BHP Group.

While Vale has said it considered the Brumadinho dam to be safe, an October 2018 report showed that the company classified the dam as being two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.

Around 200 residents were evacuated from an area near another dam operated by Vale late on Saturday, amid fears that it was structurally weak and could also collapse.

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The human cost of globalization

Barzil’s latest mining tragedy should be a wake-up call for citizens at both ends of the supply chain. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

Eric Silverman | Metro West | 17 February 2019

Last month, a massive dam holding back a lake of waste from an iron ore mine collapsed in rural Brazil. The exact toll from the tsunami of metallic sludge is still unknown. At least 130 are confirmed dead but, as one elderly woman said, “It’s easier to count the living.” Hundreds remain missing. Some bodies will likely never be exhumed from the muck. Surely you heard about the disaster, expressed momentary horror, then went about your daily life as if such matters did not concern you. They do.

Like it or not, your hand – all of our hands – helped breach that dam. Those who benefit most from the global economy have equally global moral responsibility.

If you’re reading this newspaper in Massachusetts, glance outside your window. See any mines? Count yourself lucky. The largest such chasm in Boston was the Big Hole formerly occupied by Filene’s Basement. Actually, we’re not lucky at all, just rich. Most of us in MetroWest don’t want mining. We prefer other, far safer jobs, never mind backyards unblighted by large-scale resource extraction. And we have the affluence and power to make corporate and government leaders take heed. Not so the poor souls recently entombed in the mud.

Most Americans look to nature for rest and relaxation. We sojourn in the forest, like Thoreau, to “learn what it had to teach.” Others sell their woods and hills to survive. It is far better to be on the buying end of consumerism than the giving end of iron ore and other raw materials. Just ask the people of Vila Ferteco, the community downstream from the shattered dam.

Or ask anybody at the fringes of the world system. I know some of them well, having lived and studied as an anthropologist in a community along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. They have little political voice, less money, and no position of privilege that would cause corporate directors or public officials to take notice. That’s why their society is at risk from one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the Asia-Pacific region, the Frieda River mine, now under development by an Australian company, PanAust, which is a subsidiary of a Chinese government entity. Many people along the Sepik River are speaking out against this mine. Few seem to care or listen, especially shareholders and consumers on the other side of the world who will someday reap the lion’s share of the mine’s benefits.

There are few opportunities for a paycheck in the developing world, never mind a job that would pass muster by the workplace safety regulations that protect your own labor. More than 750 million people, mostly in the Global South, have less than a $1.90 a day in their pockets. What they have, however, are the natural resources – minerals, timber, oil, and gas – that are fed to factories in Nigeria, India, and Guangzhou, then shipped as the myriad products that arrive by Amazon on our doorsteps. It’s not so far from Bangladesh or Brumadinho to the local mall.

Nobody gives up their land because they find pleasure in open-pit mining. They do so because they have as much choice in the matter as they do clout in the boardroom or parliament. Corporations know this well, and so do as they please in distant places beneath the palm trees, at least those that remain standing after clearcutting for palm oil plantations. The end result is what just happened in Brazil.

The Global South is the resource Wal-Mart for the industrialized world, only with worse wages and no health care benefits.

The poisonous sludge that murdered a town last week came from a mine owned by a Brazilian company, Vale SA. The same firm, together with the Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton, owned another Brazilian mine where a collapsed dam killed more than a dozen in 2015. BHP Billiton once operated the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea that discharged 90 million tons of waste into the local river system – about 500 square miles – for more than a decade. Half the river, reported The Australian Conservation Foundation, was “almost biologically dead.” The cultural survival of its indigenous communities remains at risk. Across the border in the Indonesian province of Papua, the U.S.-based company Freeport-McMoRan runs the world’s most profitable gold mine. Some of those profits, reported by The New York Times, went into the pockets of military and police officials to ‘secure’ the site.

Needless to say, major Western banks and investment firms, such as Vanguard, Blackrock, State Street, Fidelity, Citicorp, Bank of America, and John Hancock, pour assets into these mines, maybe even some of your own retirement funds, just as the mines pour their toxic waste down nearby hills and waterways.

There is no shortage of blame. Corrupt politicians. Greedy Wall Street financiers. Multinational corporations and the glossy PR firms they hire to promote ‘global citizenship.’ But most of the blame rests with you and I – everyday people content with our own lives and things, and thus unwilling to consider the human cost of globalization and to demand a more ethical capitalism. It’s time we did. Before another town in a far-flung place most of us can’t find on a map is buried beneath indifference.

Eric Silverman, a former Research Professor of Anthropology, lives in Framingham. He is now affiliated with the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandies University.

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Terrifying moment of Brazil dam collapse caught on camera

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Hundreds feared dead as Brazil dam collapse releases mud tide

Firemen search for people after the dam collapse unleashed a torrent of mud. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

Officials warn few survivors are expected after mining workers in canteen and on a bus are caught in a wave of iron ore waste

Dom Phillips | The Observer | 26 January 2019

Hundreds of people are feared dead after a dam operated by the mining company Vale collapsed in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, releasing a wave of red iron ore waste and causing the worst environmental catastrophe in the country’s recent history.

Authorities say that 40 people have died, and more than 300 people remain missing according to the company. The disaster comes only three years after a similar failure of the Fundão tailings dam near Mariana – co-owned by Vale – which killed 19 people.

Speaking after the latest disaster, the local fire chief Col Edgar Estevão said 100 people had been rescued from the sea of mud released by the dam. However, Vale later released a list of 412 employees and contractors whom it had still been unable to contact, and the state governor, Romeu Zema, said he did not expect many more survivors.

“We know now that the chances of having survivors are minimal and that we will probably rescue bodies,” he said.

Brazilian television showed images of survivors being winched to safety by a helicopter after the disaster at the Feijão mine near Brumadinho, less than two hours from the state capital, Belo Horizonte.

“I saw a gigantic cloud of dust and a wave of mud. It was one wave on top of another,” one contractor, Mayke Ferreira, told the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. Ferreira said he had been sleeping in a nearby dormitory when he was woken by an enormous crash.

It is not yet clear what caused the tailings dam to burst. However, the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama has already slapped a 250m reais (£50m) fine on Vale for violations related to the tragedy. The company has caused pollution, made the area unfit for habitation and committed other regulatory violations, Ibama said. State prosecutors have also filed a request to freeze 5bn reais in Vale’s accounts to help fund recovery works.

Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, visited Minas Gerais and flew over the disaster area. “We will do what is within our reach to attend the victims, minimise damages, investigate the facts, demand justice and prevent new tragedies like Mariana and Brumadinho,” he tweeted.

However, environmentalists have accused Bolsonaro of persistently attacking them for calling for tighter regulations at the mine and for failing to take action to tighten safety there.

“This tragedy was only a matter of time,” said Carlos Eduardo Pinto, a prosecutor who worked on the Mariana case. “Since the Fundão tailings dam, nothing has been done to increase control of this activity.”

Mud and waste from the mining disaster in Minas Gerais. Photograph: António Lacerda/EPA

Most of the victims of the disaster were Vale employees or subcontractors, around 100 of whom were having lunch in a canteen on the mine complex when the torrent of mud swept over them. A busload of workers was also killed, it was reported.

Maicon Vitor, 22, an electro-mechanic technician, told O Globo newspaper that he had just left the canteen when he heard the roar of the tailings dam breaking. “It came down dragging workshops, offices; the whole canteen which was in front of me went,” he said.

Fabio Schvartsman, the chief executive of Vale, said he was devastated by the tragedy. “Most of those affected were Vale employees,” he said. “I’m completely torn apart by what happened.”

Vale said the 86-metre-high tailings dam at the Corrego de Feijão open-cast, iron ore mining complex was built in 1976 and held 11.7m litres of mining waste. It was being decommissioned and had been pronounced safe in inspections.

But the National Civil Society Forum for Hydrographic Basins, a network of civil society groups, said that it had urged the authorities not to grant Vale a licence to continue operations there.

“The population of Casa Branca is very worried, with good reason,” Julio Grillo from Ibama, told a meeting on 11 December, according to minutes obtained by the Observer.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at the state environment agency asked why the company had built a canteen at the foot of the dam. “How can you approve a dam like this with the guy building an administrative centre with canteen at the foot of the tailings dam?”

It cost billions to clean up after the Mariana disaster in 2015, which polluted the drinking water of hundreds of thousands. Yet no individual was ever held responsible. “Cases like these are not accidents but environmental crimes,” Greenpeace Brazil said in a statement.

“I hope now they will create a new way to mine that doesn’t mount up waste, a safe way of working that does not leave widows,” said Sandra Quintao, a survivor of the Mariana disaster.

The Mariana dam was operated by Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian mining giant.

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Latest mining waste dam failure was preventable, foreseen

Handout picture released by the Minas Gerais Fire Department showing an aerial view taken after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho in south-eastern Brazil, on Friday. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Expert recommendations & research ignored by global mining industry

Payal Sampat | Earthworks | January 26, 2019

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.

After the 2015 Samarco mining waste dam disaster, the International Council on Mining Metals published mining waste impoundment guidance that ignored the globally recognized recommendations by the Mount Polley Panel.

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World Class Mine: World Class Disaster

Handout picture released by the Minas Gerais Fire Department showing an aerial view taken after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho in south-eastern Brazil, on Friday. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Ellen Moore | January 25, 2019

First responders are reporting ‘various deaths’ and at least 200 missing from a tailings dam break at Vale SA’s Feijão Mine in Brumadinho, located in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. In addition to consuming the Vale’s entire property, the toxic waste also reached the community of Vila Ferteco. Residents in the southern region of Brumadinho are being evacuated. Harrowing photos and videos show mine waste cutting across roadsconsuming homes and farmlandHelicopters and rescue teams have been deployed to the area.

According to local activists, numerous complaints have been made about the risk of rupture of dams since 2015, and yet an extension for operations at the mine was approved by national environmental authorities in December 2018.  

This is Brazil’s second major environmental disaster due to a tailings breach in recent years. In 2015, two tailings dams at the Germano iron ore mine, co-owned by Vale SA and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, failed, spilling the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools and killing nineteen people. The disaster cut off the drinking water supply for a quarter of a million people in the region and polluted the Rio Doce watershed, killing fish and wildlife.

Since the spill, Vale’s stock price has nosedived.

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Brazil dam collapse: hundreds missing after another mining disaster

Handout picture released by the Minas Gerais Fire Department showing an aerial view taken after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho in south-eastern Brazil, on Friday. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Disaster released a wave of orange sludge after a tailings dam burst at an iron ore mine, with scores of people still trapped

Dom Phillips | The Guardian | 25 January 2019

As many as 200 people are missing after three dams operated by the mining giant Vale collapsed in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, releasing a wave of red mining waste and prompting fears of widespread contamination.

At least 50 people died in the disaster on Friday, Avimar de Melo, mayor of the nearby town of Brumadinho told the Hoje em Dia newspaper. “We don’t have any more details because it’s all happening very quickly,” he said.

Brazilian television showed images of survivors being winched to safety by a helicopter after the disaster at the Feijão mine near Brumadinho, less than two hours from the state capital, Belo Horizonte.

Among those missing were 100 mine workers who were having lunch in an administrative area when it was hit by a torrent of sludge and water, said a fire brigade spokesman, Lieutenant Pedro Aihara.

“Our main worry now is to quickly find out where the missing people are,” Aihara said on GloboNews cable television channel.

Videos shared on social media showed houses buried in the mud and local media reported that the nearby Inhotim outdoor art complex had been evacuated though not affected.

The dam collapse came less than four years after Brazil’s worst environmental disaster was caused by the failure of a tailings dam at Mariana in the same state. That dam was operated by Samarco, which at the time of the disaster was half-owned by Vale.

“I don’t have words to describe my suffering, my enormous sadness, my disappointment in what has just happened. It is beyond anything you can imagine,” Vale’s CEO, Fabio Schvartsman, said in an address on YouTube.

He said the company had made an “enormous effort” to make its tailings dams safe after the Mariana disaster. “The whole of Vale will do whatever is possible to help the people affected,” he said.

Fire brigades and the Minas Gerais civil defence authority were leading rescue efforts, the company said in a statement.

“There were employees in the administrative area, which was hit by rejects, indicating the possibility, still unconfirmed, of victims. Part of the community of Vila Ferteco was also hit. There is still no confirmation of the cause of the accident,” it said .

Brazil’s ministry of the environment said it had set up a crisis cabinet after the three dams broke. The environment minister, Ricardo Salles, and Eduardo Bim, head of the ministry’s environment agency Ibama are on their way to the scene.

“Our major concern at this moment is to attend any victims of this serious tragedy,” Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted. “All reasonable measures are being taken.”

Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasília that he would fly to Minas Gerais on Saturday morning and fly over the region “so we can once again re-evaluate the damage and take all the reasonable measures to minimise the suffering of relatives and possible victims as well as the environmental issue”.

Bolsonaro has attacked environment agencies including Ibama for holding up development with what he describes as excessive licensing requirements and advocated freeing up mining in protected indigenous reserves.

Environmentalists said Brazil had failed to learn from the Mariana disaster, in which 375 families lost their homes, and are yet to be rehoused. The three companies which operated the Mariana dam – Samarco, Vale and the Australian mining giant BHP Billiton – spent more than $1bn on a huge clean-up and relief operation and paid millions of dollars in fines over the disaster. But no individual has been convicted.

“This new disaster with a mining waste tailings dam – this time in Brumadinho – is the sad consequence of a lesson not learnt by the Brazilian state and mining companies,” said Greenpeace Brasil’s campaigns director, Nilo D’Avila, in a statement. “Cases like these are not accidents but environmental crimes that should be investigated, punished and repaired.”

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