On November 5, 2015, yet another shocking and terrible report involving a large mining company and Vale S.A.
Two dams of the Samarco mining company Minera SA, a joint venture of Vale SA (50%) and BHP Billiton Brazil Ltda (50%), and also a recipient of waste from other mines of Vale SA in the region, including the Alegria mine, ruptured in the state of Minas Gerais, in Bento Rodrigues district, between the cities of Mariana and Ouro Preto.
The District is completely buried under toxic sludge, now the only possible access to the site is by helicopter. There are countless homeless families, and so far there are at least 16 dead, 45 missing and countless buried. The situation on the ground remains very serious and there is risk of new landslides. Initially, only the Bento Rodrigues district had been affected, but the flood of waste continues, reaching other districts and municipalities 60 km from the site.
The rupture of a tailings dam – a structure that is intended to retain the solid waste, which has a high level of toxicity and water from ore beneficiation processes – does not occur randomly and is not new in the state Minas Gerais, nor in the mining sector. The severity of the case requires rigorous investigation into the incident, strict accountability of perpetrators and full redress and compensation to all affected.
What happened was a CRIME. The regulatory agencies and companies have full responsibility for the tragedy. The amount of waste proves that companies had passed the dam’s capacity. The technical report conducted by the Instituto Prístino at the request of the prosecutor during the licensing of the project had already identified problems, such as the dam of Fundão and waste dump Union Fábrica Nova Mine Vale border on each other, with overlapping areas of direct influence, impacting synergy In addition, geotechnical and structural monitoring of the dikes and the dam must be carried out periodically with an interval less than one year to indicate any accident risks. These two points alone announced the tragedy and prove the cruel policy of Samarco, Vale S.A. and the bodies responsible for project license.
Vale S.A. is a company widely known by social movements, communities, trade unions, academics, NGOs and other social groups for its constant disregard of social and environmental rights. This tragedy also shows the disrespect for fundamental issues such as the safety of both their workers, as the nearby communities that face growing intensity of mining and unbridled quest for profit of large mining companies.
Currently a New Mineral Code for Brazil, which will allow the further advancement of mining in the country is under consideration. With its approval there are real chances of growth in scale and numbers of deaths, disrespect of rights, illegal appropriation of land, contamination of water sources and tragedies like this.
In Minas Gerais Bill No. 2946/2015 is up for a vote, authored by the current governor Fernando Pimentel, which further weakens environmental licensing in the state. This bill would reduce the time required to grant environmental licenses in the state, a fact that will benefit enterprises considered strategic by the government, further expanding the legal uncertainty, environmental damage and social conflicts associated with large projects.
This tragedy once again alerts us to the constant social and environmental impact of mining. This disaster urgently calls for a public debate on large-scale mining in the country and the accountability mechanisms of the companies. The politics of mining companies regarding workers and communities is the most perverse possible. These companies have billion in profit every year and invest too little on safety, the workers and the cities.
There are several reports of irregularities in the construction and expansion of tailings dams. An example is the structural irregularities at the dam’s Casa de Pedra mine in Congonhas / MG, owned by the Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional and the illegalities in the granting process for the construction of the dam at the Minas-Rio waste system, to be installed between the municipalities of Alvorada de Minas and Conceição do Mato Dentro, the responsibility of the Anglo American mining company.
For us of International Articulation of People Affected by Vale S.A., what happened in Bento Rodrigues district is not an isolated case but one more tragedy in this sector. Large companies such as Vale S.A. have the practice of outsourcing their operations or creating joint ventures where the hiding their name and omit commitments and responsibilities. We cannot let those responsible for the tragedy leave unpunished.
We demand investigation and civil penalties. The environmental and criminal enterprises of Samarco, Vale S.A. and BHP Billiton Brazil Ltda, must be held responsible, its leaders held personally responsible. There must be full reparation and compensation to the population of Bento Rodrigues.
The International Articulation of People Affected by Vale S.A. sends solidarity to the people of Bento Rodrigues, Paracatu de baixo, Mariana and region.
We cannot allow even one more death!
International Articulation of People Affected by Vale S.A.