A dam belonging to mining company Vale collapsed this afternoon in Brumadinho, near Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais, southeast Brazil. It’s the same state where the worst man-made environmental disaster in Brazil’s history happened three years ago.
The local fire department reported that at least 200 people are missing. Four people were reportedly rescued and taken to a hospital in Belo Horizonte, capital of the state. According to early reports, the tailings have reached the company’s administrative area and part of the Vila Ferteco community.
The Brumadinho-based Inhotim Institute, one of the largest outdoor art centers in Latin America, had to be evacuated as a precaution.
Vale’s Mina do Feijão dam collapsed only three years after the environmental crime in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais state. In November 2015, a dam broke pouring out 62 million cubic meters (roughly 2.1 billion cubic feet) of toxic mud in the area and leaving 19 dead. The Fundão dam belonged to miner Samarco, owned by Vale and BHP.
While it is still early to assess the actual damage that may be caused by today’s dam break, experts told Brasil de Fato the toxic mud could reach 19 cities.
Maria Júlia Gomes de Andrade, a coordinator of the Movement for People’s Sovereignty in Mining (MAM), said the Minas Gerais state government hastily granted the licensing to operate the dam in December, speeding up the process to issue three licenses – a preliminary one, one for the construction work, and one for the operation – at once. “All the local communities were terrified about what that expansion could mean. And now we see people’s fear has come true.”
The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) expressed their solidarity with the people who have been impacted by today’s collapse, denouncing how mining operations are currently conducted. “Privatized and multinational companies that pursue profit at all costs impact the lives of thousands of people,” a statement released by the movement after the Brumadinho disaster reads.
“The dam can hold 1 million cubic meters [35 million cubic feet] of refuse, which is now pouring over the Paraopeba River, leaving a trace of destruction and death and putting the supply of thousands of families in more than 48 cities in the Paraopeba basin at risk.”
Reginaldo Lopes, a Workers’ Party federal congressman, said that this is a case of “criminal irresponsibility.” “It’s the same [corporate] group, in less than three years, in the same area. It’s unacceptable that such irresponsibility toward people’s lives and the environment can keep on happening like this.”
Residents opposed mining operations
On Dec. 11, the State Council for Environmental Policy approved the expansion of the mining operation in Brumadinho and neighboring Sarzedo. The mines are located in the buffer zone of the Serra do Rola Moça State Park. Local residents were strongly opposed to the expansion of the operations.
In a statement, the Minas Gerais government reported that a task force is working in the area around the dam. Vale issued a statement informing it’s top priority right now is to “protect the lives of its employees and the members of the community.”