A Brazilian dam collapsed at an iron mine in late January in the state of Minas Gerais, resulting in the deaths of over 150 people with hundreds still missing. The breach of the dam by 11.7 million cubic meters of mining waste, or tailings, quickly covered Brumadinho and flooded other parts of Minas Gerais, damaging everything in its path. A video of the collapse, along with before and after photos of the land around the dam, shows the detrimental effects of the collapse, in addition to the many casualties. Rescue efforts to save over 400 missing people were unfortunately hindered due to heavy rains. Furthermore, search and rescue efforts were stalled by authorities who ordered the evacuation of 3,000 people due to fears of another dam collapsing. Fortunately, orders were lifted when the dam in question was determined not to be at risk.
The Brumadinho disaster led to renewed scrutiny of Vale, a large Brazilian mining company which owns the mine involved in the collapse. Vale was linked to another dam collapse, the Mariana collapse, in the same state in late 2015, which received the title of worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history at the time. Vale claims that the dam was regularly inspected, and it received a declaration of safety on Jan. 22 by a German inspection company. However, according to a safety report published in the Wall Street Journal, inspectors had warned the dam’s owners of faulty water drainage and monitoring systems which posed a risk of disastrous failure. Vale also denied a leak in the dam, while employees at the mine alleged that around July of 2018, the dam underwent repairs after leaking water around the base.
Many civilians have protested against Vale, including Nilo D’Ávila, campaign director of Greenpeace Brazil. D’Ávila stated, “We are not dealing with an accident, but with a crime against people and nature. How many lives do we still have to lose [until] the Brazilian state and mining companies learn from their mistakes?” Greenpeace not only accused Vale, but the government of failing to take proper action after the previous Mariana collapse.
During a news conference, Regional Development Minister Gustavo Canuto called for an update to the National Security Dam Policy, explaining that the government had not enacted any legislation to improve security policies for dams after the Mariana collapse. Hopes for dam policy reform are high as people mourn the loss of family, employees, and hundreds of innocent civilians to the deadly collapse.
(Sources: Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Guardian)