- The Fundão dam rupture — the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history — unleashed 50 million tons of waste from the world´s largest iron mine, killing nineteen people in a flood of toxic mud and contaminating 500 miles of the Doce River.
- A Brazilian judge has decided that the criminal case against 21 executives from the Samarco, Vale and BHP Biliton mining companies can again moving forward in the courts. The case had been put on hold in July.
- Prosecutors have also announced an agreement with Samarco requiring that the corporation provide technical support to those affected by the disaster, along with an assessment of the socio-economic damage.
- A just released study on the Doce River´s water quality revealed that nearly 90 percent of 18 test sites demonstrated bad or terrible water quality. The “terrible” designation, found at 7 test sites, indicates that the water is currently unfit for human consumption.
November is proving to be a challenging month for Brazil’s Samarco mining company. First, on 13 November, a judge in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais decided to move forward with the criminal case against 21 executives for the Fundão tailings dam collapse, which occurred on 5 November, 2015.
Then on 16 November, prosecutors from both the federal and state Public Ministry in Minas Gerais announced an agreement with Samarco requiring the corporation to provide technical support to those affected by the disaster as well as an assessment of the socio-economic damage caused. The agreement includes plans for 15 public hearings and consultations with indigenous and traditional communities in accordance with ILO convention 169.
The Samarco dam rupture — the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history — unleashed some 50 million tons of toxic waste from the world´s largest iron mine, killing nineteen people in a flood of toxic mud and contaminating 500 miles of the Doce River. Prosecutors have called for “qualified homicide” charges against 21 of the defendants. A spokesperson for Samarco told Mongabay that the company is not commenting on the case.
The criminal proceedings had been put on hold in July based on a claim by two defendants that some evidence gathered in the case had been collected illegally, outside the period under investigation. This month, a judge ruled that while some transcripts of corporate emails and chats were not admissible, other material obtained through surveillance and other means was valid.
Samarco is a joint venture with two of the world´s largest mining companies, Vale and BHP Biliton. Executives from all three companies stand as defendants in the case. Five of those accused are foreigners who don’t live in Brazil. Five representatives for Vale and BHP Billiton are being charged along with 16 Samarco officials including Ricardo Vescovi de Aragão, the company’s former President; Kleber Luiz de Mendonça Terra, its Director of Operations and Infrastructure; three managers and eleven members of the company’s board of directors.
At the start of the month, the Brazilian environmental NGO, SOS Mata Atlantica, issued a study on the Doce River´s water current quality. Testing at 18 locations along the Fundão contaminated portion of the river revealed that nearly 90 percent of test sites had bad or terrible water quality. The “terrible” designation, found at 7 test sites, indicates that the water is unfit for human consumption.
Prosecutor Edmundo Antonio Dias told Mongabay in an interview last year that the foundation established to oversee recovery efforts, Fundação Renova, was skewed to benefit the large mining companies, while little decision-making power had been allocated to communities affected by the dam’s collapse. Dias confirmed via email that this problem persists today. In the same interview, he said that the foundation took over the corporations’ responsibility of paying for the disaster recovery “as if the companies had nothing to do with repairing the damage. So, it’s a way of engineering things that marginalizes the companies and focuses all eyes on the foundation.”
Another blow came to the firm on 14 November when a Minas Gerais judge voted in favor of maintaining a freeze on Samarco accounts valued at 300 Million Reals (US $90.5 million). A third judge will decide on 21 November whether the case should remain in civil court or move to another division. Twenty million Reals (just over US $6 million) have already been spent to compensate some disaster victims, but prosecutors argue that the accounts should stay blocked lest the government send a message of impunity.
Blocking those accounts serves as “an additional guarantee we have to know that the situation will be resolved,” Mauro Marques da Silva told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. Marques da Silva resided in the town of Bento Rodrigues, where 19 people died and which was demolished by the flood. Samarco has funded the design and construction of a new town for the 225 families affected, and a spokesperson told Mongabay that the company has spent 2.5 billion Reals (US $762.2 million) on recovery efforts in the region so far.