The latest mining waste dam failure

First responders are reporting ‘various deaths’ and at least 200 missing from a tailings dam break at Vale SA’s Feijão Mine in Brumadinho, located in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. In addition to consuming the Vale’s entire property, the toxic waste also reached the community of Vila Ferteco. Residents in the southern region of Brumadinho are being evacuated. Harrowing photos and videos show mine waste cutting across roads, consuming homes and farmland. Helicopters and rescue teams have been deployed to the area.

Read our statement on this latest mine waste dam disaster here.

According to local activists, numerous complaints have been made about the risk of rupture of dams since 2015, and yet an extension for operations at the mine was approved by national environmental authorities in December 2018.  Minas Gerais news outlet, O Tempo, is reporting that Brazilian authorities at the National Mining Agency had categorized Vale’s dam complex at the Feijão mine as “low risk” for accidents, but “high potential” to cause damage if accidents were to occur. According to data from 2017, there are 45 “high risk” dams in Brazil; the Feijão Mine dam complex was not on the list. 

This is Brazil’s second major environmental disaster due to a tailings breach in recent years. In 2015, two tailings dams at the Germano iron ore mine, co-owned by Vale SA and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, failed, spilling the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools and killing nineteen people. The disaster cut off the drinking water supply for a quarter of a million people in the region and polluted the Rio Doce watershed, killing fish and wildlife.

Since the spill, Vale’s stock price has nosedived.