Brumadinho dam disaster
|Date||25 January 2019|
|Location||Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine, Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil|
The Brumadinho dam disaster occurred on 25 January 2019 when Dam I, a tailings dam at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine, 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) east of Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil, suffered a catastrophic failure. The dam is owned by Vale, the same company that was involved in the 2015 Mariana dam disaster. The dam released a mudflow that advanced through the mine's offices, including a cafeteria during lunchtime, along with houses, farms, inns and roads downstream. At least 248 people died as a result of the collapse.
The Brumadinho dam failure happened three years and two months after the Mariana dam disaster, which killed 19 people and destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues. The Mariana disaster is considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazil's history and is still under investigation.
Experts say that Brazil's weak regulatory structures and regulatory gaps allowed the dam's failure. Three years after the Mariana dam collapse, the companies involved in that environmental disaster have paid only 3.4% of R$785 million in fines.
At the time of the Mariana dam disaster in November 2015, the department in charge of inspecting mining operations in the state of Minas Gerais, the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM), was worried about the retirement of another 40% of public employees over the course of the next two years.
According to the national registry of the National Mining Agency, the Córrego do Feijão dam, built in 1976 by the Ferteco Mineração (acquired by Vale in 2001), was classified as a small structure with low risk of high potential damage. In a statement, the State Department of Environment and Sustainable Development reported that the venture was duly licensed. In December 2018, Vale obtained a license to reuse waste from the dam (about 11.7 million cubic meters) and to close down activities. The dam had not received tailings since 2014 and, according to the company, underwent bi-weekly field inspections.
The collapse occurred just after noon. The mud hit the mine's administrative area, where hundreds of the mine's employees were having lunch, as well as the "Vila Ferteco", a small community about 1 kilometre from the mine. At 3:50 p.m., the mud reached the Paraopeba River, the region's main river, which supplies water to one third of the Greater Belo Horizonte region.
On 27 January, around 5:30 a.m., sirens were sounded amid fears for the stability of the mine's adjacent Dam VI, a process water reservoir, where increased water levels were detected. Due to the risk, about 24,000 residents from several districts of Brumadinho were evacuated, including the city's downtown area. Rescue operations were suspended for several hours.
As of 10 July 2019, 248 people were confirmed dead, and 22 were considered missing. At a press conference, Vale's president, Fabio Schvartsman, stated that most of the victims are Vale's employees. Three locomotives and 132 wagons were buried in the mine plant area below the dam collapse. Four railwaymen are missing. The mud also struck and destroyed two sections of railway bridge and about 100 metres of railway track.
As a result of the disaster, on 28 January the Vale S.A. stock price fell 24%, losing 71.3 billion reais (US$19 billion) in market capitalization, the biggest single day loss in the history of the Brazilian stock market, surpassing May 2018, when Petrobrás lost more than R$47 billion in market value. At the end of January 28, Vale's debt was downgraded to a rating of BBB- by Fitch Ratings.
In the city of Brumadinho, many agricultural areas were affected or totally destroyed. The local livestock industry suffered damages, mainly from loss of animals such as cattle and poultry. The local market was also impacted due to the damages, with some stores and establishments remaining closed for a few days.
The dam failure released around 12 million cubic meters of tailings. According to experts, the metals in the tailings will likely be incorporated into the river's soil and could go on to affect the region's whole ecosystem. According to environmentalists, the waste stream could also reach the São Francisco River which – in addition to Minas Gerais – passes through four other Brazilian states and the dams of two hydroelectric plants: Retiro Baixo and Três Marias.
The National Water Agency (ANA) stated that the tailings could pollute over 300 kilometres of river. Vale's president, Fabio Schvartsman, said that the dam had been inactive since 2015 and that the material should not be moving too much. "I believe that the environmental risk, in this case, will be much lower than that of Mariana", he said.
The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, sent three ministers to follow the rescue efforts. The Governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, announced the formation of a task force to rescue the victims with dozens of firefighters reallocated to Brumadinho.
In a sign of solidarity with the Brazilian government, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu sent a search and rescue group of 130 civil defense specialists and navy divers to Brumadinho to aid Brazilian specialists in finding possible survivors.
Brazilian authorities issued arrest warrants for five employees believed to be connected with the dam collapse, leading to two senior managers of the mine and another Vale employee being arrested, alongside two engineers from German company TÜV Süd contracted to inspect the dam.
The local mining union's treasurer had called the disaster "premeditated" as there were continuous and long-standing complaints and warnings about the structural integrity of the dam. Vale has denied these charges and stated the mine was up-to-date with the latest standards.
One day after the failure, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources announced a R$250 million fine on the Vale company.
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- Media related to Brumadinho dam disaster at Wikimedia Commons
- "Brazil dam disaster: Inside the village destroyed by surging sludge", by Julia Carneiro BBC News Brasil, Brumadinho, Brazil, BBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation, January 31, 2019. Retrieved February 10, 2019. (Córrego do Feijão village.)