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Anglo American iron ore pipeline suffers second rupture in Brazil

  • A rupture of an Anglo American Brasil pipeline in Minas Gerais state spilled 318 tons of iron ore on 12 March. That has been followed by a second spill of 647 tons of mining material on 29 March into the Santo Antônio do Grama River and nearby pastureland.
  • The pipeline is currently waiting for licensing approval in order to begin expansion of the Sapo iron mine, part of the Minas-Rio Project.
  • The 529 kilometer (328 mile) mineral duct links the Sapo mine, located near the town of Conceição Mato Dentro, to the Atlantic Ocean export terminal Port of Açu, in São João da Barra, Rio de Janeiro.
  • IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, has charged the company with several environmental violations and slapped it with a fine of R$ 72.6 million (US$ 21.1 million). The duct is currently shut down pending a report from Anglo American certifying the operation’s safety.
The ruptured pipeline moves a mix of iron ore dust and water under pressure. When the pipe broke the mining material shot high into the air, then flowed away, contaminating a local river and pastureland. Image courtesy of MPMG

On 12 March, Anglo American Brasil halted iron ore production in Minas Gerais state after the rupture of a mineral duct in the rural area of Santo Antônio do Grama, which leaked 318 tons of mining material into a local stream near its EB2 pumping station.

Seventeen days later, on 29 March, a second pipeline leak occurred only 200 meters (656 feet) away from the first. It spilled 647 tons of iron ore, including 174 tons into the Santo Antônio do Grama River as well as contaminating nearby pastureland according to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency.

The mining company stated that the accident was caused by a failure in a weld,” according to the communications office of the Secretary of State and Environment (SEMAD) of Minas Gerais.

Heavy equipment moves in to try to deal with the Anglo American pipeline iron ore spill in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. Image courtesy of MPMG

The iron ore duct, which allows ore powder to remain suspended in water for transport, is part of Anglo American Brasil’s Minas-Rio system — a US$ 3.6 billion project intended to carry ore to the Atlantic Ocean export terminal Port of Açu in Rio de Janeiro state. The Brazilian company is a subsidiary of Anglo American, a transnational global mining firm based in London.

On 10 April, IBAMA charged Anglo American with violation of Brazil’s pollution laws and of causing potential harm to human health and the water supply. Fines totaling R$ 72.6 million (US$ 21.1 million) were levied for the two leaks.

Further, IBAMA ordered Anglo American to “carry out a detailed inspection of the entire pipeline.” Jônatas Trindade, technical advisor to the environmental licensing board, said that: “A halt in the [duct’s] operations will be maintained until the issuance of a technical report attesting to the safety of the installations.” The company will also be required to submit a Degraded Area Recovery Plan (PRAD) by the end of this month. The full extent of damage to the environment is currently unknown.

The Santo Antônio do Grama River polluted with Anglo American Brasil iron ore. Image courtesy of MPMG

Contacted by Mongabay, Anglo American Brasil responded through its communications office, saying that it is still analyzing IBAMA’s actions; the company offered no further comment.

Last month, the independent litigators of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) and of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Minas Gerais (MPMG) opened investigations concerning the first pipeline spill. The MPMG ordered the immediate impoundment of R$ 10 million (US$ 3.1 million) in mining company funds to ensure payment of R$ 100,000 (US$ 31,250) in daily fines.

After the second spill, the MPMG filed a new request for “urgent guardianship” to prevent future damages. The Public Prosecutor also told Mongabay that the state has suspended Anglo American’s ore transport for an indeterminate period.

Earlier this month, SEMAD issued an act of infringement regarding the first leak, and fined Anglo American R$ 125.5 million (US$ 39.2 million). SEMAD informed the company that the second leak is still under assessment by the agency’s technical experts, as is the application of a second fine.

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The Anglo American pipeline has been shut down until further notice. Environmental damage is still being assessed. Image courtesy of MPMG
The Santo Antônio do Grama River contaminated with Anglo American iron ore. Image courtesy of MPMG