Dam Failure in Brazil; Vale Ordered to Pay for Damages

  • The court required about 2.6 billion euros from Vale company for future compensation payments.
  • A United Nations Environment Agency report listed the biggest dam breaks since 1985.
  • Brazil is the country with the largest number of serious mining dams in the last ten years, according to the UN report.

Nearly six months after the dam burst on an iron ore mine in Brazil, a court has sentenced Vale mining company to pay for the damage. More than 200 people died and massive environmental damage has remained.

Barely half a year after the devastating breach in Brumadinho, Eastern Brazil, a court has ruled for the first time and ordered the Vale mining company to make amends. A judge ordered the company must pay for any damage. “But the company did not commit any damages for the time being. This can not yet be quantified,” Judge Elton Pupo Nogueira said.

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 released a mudflow that advanced through the mine’s offices, including a cafeteria during lunchtime, along with houses, farms, inns and roads downstream.

It’s not just about the casualties of the disaster. Dam failure also damaged the environment and economic activity in the region. At the same time, the court required about 2.6 billion euros from Vale company for future compensation payments.

A mine waste reservoir dam at Corrego do Feijao Mine broke on 25 January. Millions of tons of mud spilled over the area around the mine, burying houses, cars, and roads. At least 248 people were killed in the accident, 22 others are still missing. The liquid mass interspersed with heavy metals also reached the Paraopeba river and contaminated it.

Vale said the court recognized the company’s “cooperation” during the trial. The group wants to “quickly and fairly” pay for the settlement of the damage caused by the disaster.

After the dam burst, the TUV Sud company was also criticized. The German certification company tested the dam on behalf of Vale company in September 2018 and declared it safe despite several maintenance recommendations.

Brazilian judge accuses TUV Sud failure

With the judgment, the court deprived the TUV Sud company of a license to certify dams in Brazil and arrested the company assets amounting to the equivalent of about 13 million euros for any claims for damages. TUV Sud never commented on the judgment with reference to the ongoing investigation, but they continued to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies.

TÜVs (short for German: Technischer Überwachungsverein, English: Technical Inspection Association) are German businesses that provide inspection and product certification services. The TÜVs originated in Germany in the late 1800s during the Industrial Revolution, following the explosion of a steam boiler at a brewery in Mannheim in 1865. This led a group of engineers to found the first Dampfkessel Überwachungsverein (DÜV, Steam Boiler Inspection Association) and soon similar associations were created in other German cities and these came together in an association in 1873.

The Munich-based test company declared in February this year that it was doubtful that the Brazilian system for testing the stability of dams was reliable. For the time being, therefore, no further certificates and reports will be issued to Vale company in Brazil “until a thorough examination of the system has been completed.

A United Nations Environment Agency report listed the biggest dam breaks since 1985. In only the last five years, there have been eight major accidents around the world.

Brazil, unfortunately, is highlighted in this list because it is the country with the largest number. There were three accidents with human loss or serious environmental damage from 2014 to date: Herculano Mineracao dam breaking, in Itabirito (MG), in 2014, with three deaths; the leak at the Fundao dam, in Mariana (MG), in 2015, with 19 deaths; and now the tragedy with great loss of life in Brumadinho.

The tragedy in Brumadinho will be at the top of the world’s biggest mine-disruption disasters. Unfortunately, it is possible that it overtakes Stava, which was the largest tragedy of its kind in the last 34 years.

Why Brazil is champion in serious accidents

Brazil is the country with the largest number of serious mining dams in the last ten years, according to the UN report. Other nations that have also had recent cases of ore leakage are China, the United States, Israel, Canada, and Mexico.

It is important to consider that Brazil is the second largest exporter of ore, behind only Australia. There are more mines, so statistically, the possibility of accidents is greater.

On the other hand, according to the UN, many such accidents could be avoided if companies invested in safer tailings storage systems or improving inefficient maintenance.

The United Nations report points out that there are already sufficient safety protocols and alternative technologies to prevent accidents with mineral tailings.

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George Mtimba

George clarifies how the news is changing the world, how world news trends affect you. Also, George is a professional journalist, a freelance news reporter and writer who is passionate with current world news.


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