Tag Archives: Brazil

Vale says another ‘world class’ dam may collapse next week

Gongo Soco iron ore mine, in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. (Image courtesy of Vale SA)

Reuters | May 17, 2019

Brazilian iron ore miner Vale SA told prosecutors in the state of Minas Gerais that a dam is at risk of rupturing at its Gongo Soco mine, about 40 miles from where its Brumadinho dam collapsed, killing more than 230 people.

According to a document published on Thursday, prosecutors said Vale is predicting the dam in the city of Barao de Cocais may collapse next week if the current rate of movement in the embankment of the mine pit close to the dam is maintained.

The warning underlines ongoing concern about the stability of dams in Brazil’s mining heartland of Minas Gerais in the aftermath of the Brumadinho accident, which itself came less than four years after another deadly dam collapse at a joint venture between Vale and BHP Group.

Vale said in a late afternoon statement it remained unclear whether the slippage in the embankment would actually trigger a collapse of the nearby Sul Superior dam, but said it was raising its level of alert and readiness for such an extreme case.

Earlier this week, Vale had identified movement close to the mine, which has not been active since 2016, the prosecutors said. About 500 people seen at risk from a collapse of the dam have been evacuated from their homes since February under orders from mining regulator ANM.

The dam holds 6 million cubic meters of mining waste, roughly half the amount that was released when the Brumadinho tailings dam burst in late January, burying nearby buildings including a company cafeteria and a bed and breakfast.

“If the movement of the northern embankment of the mine pit continues at the same pace, the rupture may happen between May 19 and May 25, which could cause liquefaction of the south dam,” the prosecutor’s document said.

Liquefaction, in which a dam’s barrier gets weakened as it turns to water, has been pegged as a likely cause of the Brumadinho collapse. Like Brumadinho, the dam at Gongo Soco has an upstream structure, known as the cheapest and least stable type of tailings dam design.

Vale shares fell 3.2% on Thursday, accelerating their drop after the reports on the potential dam burst. Prosecutors ordered Vale to issue urgent warnings about the risks to the local population.

Authorities in Brumadinho are still recovering bodies from the collapse of the Vale tailings dam there.

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Another Brazil dam in danger of collapse, mining company warns

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. REUTERS/Washington Alves

Diane Jeantet | Associated Press | March 24, 2019

Brazilian mining giant Vale announced communities in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais have been ordered to evacuate after independent auditors found one of its dams could collapse at any moment.

On Friday, the company raised the level of risk at a mining waste dam in the city of Barao de Cocais to three, the highest grade. According to Brazil’s mining and energy secretary, level three means that “a rupture is imminent or already happening.”

Residents within a 6-mile perimeter of the dam had already been told to leave by state authorities in February after Vale raised risk levels to grade two, a company spokesperson told the Associated Press. The spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, said 442 people had been relocated to temporary housing or with family members since February.

Lt. Col. Flavio Godinho, of the state’s civil defense department, told reporters that authorities are studying the Barao de Cocais structure to review the existing contingency plan.

“Any activity at the dam could trigger a rupture,” Godinho said on Globo TV.

The news comes nearly two months after another Vale-operated dam in the nearby city of Brumadinho collapsed, unleashing a wave of toxic mud that contaminated rivers and killed about 300 people.

The contamination of rivers with mining waste, or tailings, which contain high levels of iron-ore and other metals is of great concern and can last for years or even decades, experts say.

Brazilian environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica said it had proof of water contamination in the large Sao Francisco river as a result of the Brumadinho dam collapse. Hundreds of municipalities and larger cities such as Petrolina, 870 miles from Brumadinho, get drinking water from the Sao Francisco.

Brazil’s National Water Agency, which is carrying out its own water tests, denied further contamination of the Sao Francisco river, according to Globo’s news portal G1.

The type of structure used to hold back mining waste in Brumadinho was the same as the one currently in use in Barao de Cocais, which lies about 93 miles away.

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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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