MAC: Mines and Communities

Will Brazil's dam collapse lead to real, global change?

Published by MAC on 2019-02-21
Source: Bloomberg, Reuters, Mining.com, Guardian (2019-02-20)

The repercussions for the global mining industry continue from the tragic Brumadinho tailings dam disaster in Brazil (see: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=13923)

A number of insightful critiques of the industry have been published, while the issue of what mining's financiers can do to minimise the risks has been explored. Brazil promised it will ban upstream dams, the kind of dam used by Vale. BHP's CEO Andrew Mackenzie has said his company would welcome an international and independent body to oversee the integrity of all the dams.

But will meaningful global change happen? If past experience is anything to go by the industry will do what it can to resist it.

As the first article below notes "Despite the collective call for action, the status quo may well reassert itself. That’s more or less what happened in Canada after a dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine failed in 2014."

Brazil’s Deadly Dam Collapse Could Force the Mining Industry to Change

The list of catastrophic failures will continue to grow so long as cost ranks ahead of safety.

By Danielle Bochove, Laura Millan Lombrana, and David Stringer

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-20/brazil-s-deadly-dam-collapse-could-force-the-mining-industry-to-change

20 February 2019

The mining dam collapse that killed at least 169 in Brazil last month, with 141 still missing, was by no means an isolated incident. There’ve been at least 50 dam failures globally in just the last decade, according to one tally, with 10 considered major.

For years the industry has depended on these dams to contain the sometimes toxic, often dangerous, waste from mining. But the latest failure, which could end up as the deadliest in more than half a century, has the industry struggling to contain the consequences.

On Feb. 19, BHP Group Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie, citing the need for a “nuclear level of safety,” said his company would welcome an international and independent body to oversee the integrity of all the dams. Mining CEOs will meet in Miami next week, he said, to consider the problem. It won’t be an easy task. While many of the spills have been in the news, they range across so many countries and their causes vary so widely that they aren’t often considered as a whole. What data exist are spotty at best, collected by a jumble of mining and engineering organizations, environmental watchdogs, and academics.

David Chambers, a geophysicist who’s assembled one of the most complete lists of the failures, says at least 9 of 50 he’s tracked are “Severity Code 1,” a classification that includes disasters that killed people, freed more than 1 million cubic meters of waste, or spread tailings, the industry term for a slurry of ground rock and effluents from mining, over at least 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). Last month’s incident, involving Brazil’s Vale SA, raised the count to 10.

“We don’t know how many dams there are, we don’t know how many have failed, and we don’t know why they’ve failed,” says Chambers, founder of the Center for Science in Public Participation, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, Mont. “The basic information that we’re lacking is the real issue.”

The list of catastrophic failures will continue to grow, Chambers and others say, as long as the mining industry continues to rank cost ahead of safety in designing, operating, and maintaining tailings dams. The Brazil dam failure, for instance, involved the “upstream” method of construction, typically the cheapest by far among the techniques available and widely seen as the least stable. Under that system, part of the wall containing the pond is constructed of tailings, and it’s designed to grow as more and more waste is pumped in.

Meanwhile, climate change and aging mines have made the problem more pressing, with rainfall increasing in many parts of the world, and the need to grind through more and more rock in older properties to extract profitable ore, leaving more waste.

Mining laws vary widely from country to country, and the industry is largely self-policed. Global best practices endorsed by voluntary industry associations aren’t legally binding. Thirty large-scale mining companies scored an average grade of just 22 percent when it came to tracking, reviewing, and taking action to reduce tailings risk, according to a report released this month by the Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF), a nonprofit funded by the Dutch and Swiss governments, as well as some small philanthropic organizations.

The same report cites research predicting 14 serious failures this decade. It counts 11 as having already occurred, with two of the worst having taken place in Brazil. The biggest known spill by volume in a century occurred there in 2015. The RMF is calling for an international database of tailings dams and more independent audits, two seemingly modest requests that have proved difficult to achieve.

In the past week, Brazil has said it will ban the kind of dam used by Vale. If other countries follow suit, the impact on global mining will be enormous. The question is whether, this time, the industry will preempt government regulation with meaningful change of its own.

The International Council on Mining and Metals, a London-based industry group that will hold next week’s meeting on the failures, said in a statement dated Feb. 1 that it’s “considering a range of actions,” which it didn’t identify. Comments from individual companies largely have been sparse on details. Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-largest miner by market value, called the disaster in Brazil a “turning point,” though it has yet to detail possible solutions. Anglo American Plc says it wants to reach a point where it can operate without liquid tailings, but it’s given no timetable for that to occur. The company is developing new ways to crush ore that generate less waste, CEO Mark Cutifani said at an industry conference in Cape Town in early February.

“We’ve got to change. Whether it’s technology, better management, better design, whatever it takes, we need to lift our game as an industry,” Sandeep Biswas, CEO of Newcrest Mining Ltd., which experienced a tailings dam failure last year, said in a Feb. 14 interview.

Despite the collective call for action, the status quo may well reassert itself. That’s more or less what happened in Canada after a dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine failed in 2014, dumping almost 24 million cubic meters of slurry into pristine glacial lakes and rivers nearby.

An independent panel convened by provincial authorities to look into the incident noted the mining industry’s storage practices had “not fundamentally changed in the past hundred years.” Among the panel’s recommendations: Wherever possible, tailings should be stored dry, though it acknowledged retrofitting existing tailings impoundments isn’t always possible and can have risks. At Mount Polley, mining waste is still pumped into ponds.

While the two dams that failed in Brazil over the past three years were constructed using the upstream method, there are other, more expensive techniques available. One prebuilds the pond’s walls and insulates them. Experts tend to prefer it as safer, but there’s no absolute guarantee of stability. The most expensive technique, costing as much as 10 times the cheapest method, dries out the tailings and stacks them, typically underground.

Only three countries in the world ban upstream dams—Chile, Peru, and now Brazil. Chile, the world’s top copper producer, also regulates the minimum distance between dams and urban centers. But the nation still has 740 tailings deposits, only 101 of which are active, with the rest abandoned or inactive, according to data from government mining agency Sernageomin. “No one can say we’re completely safe,” says Raul Espinace, a professor at Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso in Chile.

Many mining companies would argue that banning upstream tailings dams is a step too far. Norilsk Nickel and Polyus, Russia’s two biggest miners, have 11 such dams combined. Both companies say the dams are safe, citing Russian laws that forbid active tailings storage in areas where flooding could affect villages.

In Brazil, Vale could face damages of as much as $7 billion from last month’s disaster, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, in addition to the $1.3 billion the company says it will have to spend to decommission 19 other upstream dams in the country. The question remaining: whether the consequences—both moral and financial—mark a turning point for the industry, forcing those companies that can afford to change their practices to do so while driving others out of business.

“If mining waste cannot be disposed of responsibly, we need to evaluate whether that mine should continue to be an operation or should be built in the first place,” says Payal Sampat, mining program director at industry watchdog Earthworks. “That is the question that a lot of these mining companies are afraid of. What happens if you don’t make the cut?” —With Lynn Thomasson, Elena Mazneva, and R.T. Watson


The Mining Industry’s Waste Problem Will Only Get Worse

To avoid another disaster like Vale’s, companies need to invest in better disposal methods. That’s going to get harder in the coming decades.

By David Fickling

Bloomberg opinion - https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-02-19/after-vale-mining-waste-disposal-is-critical-yet-difficult

19 February 2019

It’s taken two tragedies in just over three years, but the mining industry is finally starting to clean up its act.

Brazil’s government Monday announced plans to ban upstream tailings dams, a low-cost method of storing mining waste implicated in last month’s Brumadinho disaster and the similar Samarco collapse in 2015. Something of the sort was already on the cards: State-controlled Vale SA, operator or joint-operator of both facilities, is already decommissioning all of its dams that use the technology. Chile, where earthquakes pose a particular threat to the stability of tailings ponds, banned upstream dams in 1970.

The move may be the bare minimum for the industry to protect itself. By their very nature, mining companies turn public mineral resources into private profits. When they’re seen to be dumping too much of the intervening costs back on the public (whether through pollution, disasters or inadequate cleanup) they risk being regulated out of existence. The Philippines, with one of the richest mineral endowments in the world, remains more or less off-limits to global miners after a series of tailings dam failures in the 1980s and 1990s prompted a popular backlash.

The obvious solution should be for miners to invest more in better waste-disposal methods and regain the public trust. But there’s good reason to think that’s going to get harder, not easier, in the coming decades.

One problem is that ore grades – the share of key minerals in the rock that’s dug from the ground – have been declining for decades. Elemental copper made up about 0.74 percent of copper ores mined in 2005, according to consultancy AME Group; by 2017, that had fallen to 0.59 percent.

That doesn’t sound very dramatic, until you consider it in the context of an industry that produces about 20 million metric tons of copper a year. On a back-of-the-envelope estimate, copper mines produced an additional 1.4 billion annual tons of extra waste in 2017 compared with 2005. About half of that can be attributed to grade decline, with the other half coming from increased production. 1

While major miners have battled and even profited from grade decline by taking advantage of economies of scale to exploit bigger and lower-quality deposits than previously thought possible, the result has been a vast increase in tailings production, amounting to about 14 billion metric tons in 2010. In addition to increasing the volume of mining waste, that raises the costs of separating it from the valuable stuff, making cheap and risky disposal methods more attractive.

As a result, the most serious large-scale tailings dam collapses like those in Brumadinho and Samarco have actually been increasing in recent decades despite an overall decline in breaches, according to a database maintained by consultants Lindsay Newland Bowker and David Chambers.

There’s another issue. Outside of earthquake zones, the biggest causes of tailings failures normally relate to water – the amount in the mineral slurry backed up behind the dam, the quantity entering the impoundment, and how much is being drained away to solidify the silty waste.

More pronounced wet and dry seasons increase the challenge of maintaining dams safely, by speeding the erosion of embankments and causing ground to expand and contract like a house on unstable foundations. Heavier downpours also raise the risk of major rainfall events that can push facilities beyond their design parameters, resulting in catastrophic failures.

Both factors are likely to get worse as a result of climate change. For instance, rainfall in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, where both the Brumadinho and Samarco disasters occurred, is projected to intensify between January and March and lessen through the rest of the year, according to a 2017 study.

The results of these trends will be widespread. As Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Paul Gait wrote in a note to clients this week, tightening tailings regulation ultimately will mean that “capital costs for new mining projects will be higher, lead times on new project development will be longer, and the cost of capital for the industry, especially for mining juniors, has risen sharply.”

That’s not just a problem for mining companies. Ultimately it will get passed on to the prices of the commodities they produce. It may be a small and worthwhile penalty to prevent another Brumadinho, but we’re all going to end up shouldering it.

Footnote - 1. Tailings aren't necessarily the same thing as waste rock. Miners typically dig through overburden to get at an ore body, which is stacked up as waste rock. At metal mines, the ore is then crushed and treated to release metal-heavy concentrates. The waste material from this process, mixed with water, goes to create tailings.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
David Fickling at dfickling@bloomberg.net


Brazilian mine tragedy will not be the last tailings dam disaster

Andy Home

Reuters Thomspon Foundation opinion - https://www.reuters.com/article/us-vale-sa-disaster-ahome/brazilian-mine-tragedy-will-not-be-the-last-tailings-dam-disaster-andy-home-idUSKCN1Q405J

15 February 2019

LONDON (Reuters) - (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters)

The collapse of Vale’s Brumadinho iron ore tailings dam in Brazil was both shocking and devastating in its impact. But it was not a one-off event.

It was the 11th serious tailings dam failure in the last decade and such catastrophic events are becoming more frequent, according to researchers at World Mine Tailings Failures (WMTF).

Indeed, the number of incidents is going to rise further, according to the U.S. not-for-profit organization that tracks all recorded tailings storage facility (TSF) failures.

“Without major changes to law and regulation, and to industry practices, and without new technology that substantially reduces risk and increases loss control, our current prediction is for 19 very serious failures between 2018 and 2027.”

A “very serious” failure is defined by how much waste material is released, how far it travels and how many fatalities result.

It’s a terrible indictment of a global industry that is trying to shed its “dirty” image in response to consumer and investor pressure for “clean” materials.

So what are tailings dams, why are they failing with increasing frequency and what can the industry do about it?

WASTE DISPOSAL

A tailings dam is the most common waste disposal solution for mining companies, whether they’re extracting iron ore, gold or copper.

Water is essential in the grinding and processing of mineral ore for the extraction of the contained metal, which means that the waste takes the form of a slurry of water and mineral particles.

It is this slurry that is stored in a tailings dam and which can cause such devastation if the dam is breached.

“Water will flow through and around buildings but liquefied tailings can destroy the structures,” notes a joint report published in 2006 by the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“The volumes of mine waste greatly exceed the total volumes of materials handled by civil engineering throughout the world,” and some tailings dams “are probably the largest man-made structures on earth,” the report adds.

The report’s title, “Tailings Dams: Risk of Dangerous Occurrences” tells you that even more than a decade ago there was rising concern about the rising number of dam failures.

WHY DAMS FAIL

A comparison between dams built as water reservoirs and those built to hold mine waste is telling.

Water dams, or embankment dams, tend not to break.

“Embankment dams are prestigious structures used to profitably store water, whereas tailings dams are required for the storage of unwanted waste, desirably at minimum cost,” according to the ICOLD/UNEP report.

More critically, “embankment dams are usually built to full height during one period of construction.” Tailings dams, by comparison “are built slowly over many years and conditions may also change with time,” meaning “supervision of their construction may become faulty.”

A mine tailings dam is continuous work in progress, its size dependent on how long a mine operates and at what rate of throughput. Mines sometimes go inactive before resuming operations as the price of the mined metal fluctuates, complicating continuous dam management.

One reason for the projected higher rate of “very serious” failure is simple mathematics. More mines are operating for longer, meaning ever growing amounts of tailings waste with greater potential devastation if the dams break.

In terms of dam technology, the so-called “upstream” dam using tailings to construct the tailings dam, was already identified in the 2006 ICOLD/UNEP report as higher risk.

It was precisely this type of “upstream” dam that caused such devastation in Brazil last month.

There is a growing move away from such dam technology, particularly in mining areas prone to seismic activity or heavy rainfall.

But there are still plenty of “upstream” dams in operation around the world, 88 in Brazil alone, according to that country’s mining agency.

And using different technology doesn’t eliminate the risk of dam failure or less devastating leakage. Contamination of water supplies from leaking tailings dams is a source of friction between mining companies and local residents the world over.

ECONOMIC DRIVERS

While each tailings dam is almost by nature unique and technology can vary across the risk spectrum, there are two underlying economic drivers that apply to just about all of them.

The first is the reduction in ore grades as mining companies have to work older deposits harder for the same amount of metal.

The classic example here is copper. Global copper ore grades have declined from 2 percent in the first half of the 20th century to less than 1 percent in the last decade.

Simply put, that means more waste to be stored in tailings dams per tonne of copper extracted and the resulting lower margins mean less money available for dam safety.

The second driver is price.

The “super-cycle” years of high metal prices pushed miners to maximize production, particularly at margin-challenged mines, where investment in safety came second to cash-flow generation.

The subsequent years of lower prices not only discouraged such investment but led to major operators shedding marginal mines to less-qualified owners in deference to shareholder pressure.

ZERO FAILURE OBJECTIVE

The call of bodies such as UNEP is for regulators, communities and miners to adopt a shared “zero-failure” approach to tailings dams.

Evidently, dam design and regulatory oversight are critical components of such a policy.

But, more fundamentally, to quote the official review of the Mount Polley dam failure in Canada in 2014, “safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations and cost should not be the determining factor” in tailings management.

The mining industry, in other words, needs to rethink radically what it currently regards as worthless “waste” and to decommission the highest-risk dams, even if it is cost-negative.

If it doesn’t, another tailings dam failure is simply a matter of time.

For the world’s miners there is more than simple reputation at stake here.

The Central American country of El Salvador made a little bit of history in March 2017, when it became the first country to ban all mining activity.

The decision enjoyed massive popular support because of fears that a proposed new gold-silver mine would mean even worse water contamination in a country already struggling with the environmental legacy of previous mines.

El Salvador could do with the revenue from mining. But given the choice, it chose water over gold.

The mining industry has lost its right to operate in the country.

If the industry doesn’t break the cycle of tailings dam failure, El Salvador may not be the last country to choose the health of its citizens over the health of its tax receipts.

Editing by David Evans


Trust in tailings? Vale dam disaster spurs investors into action

Reuters

http://www.mining.com/web/trust-tailings-vale-dam-disaster-spurs-investors-action/

16 February 2019

Seeking assurances from Brazilian miner Vale by phone after a second deadly dam disaster in three years is not enough for Sasja Beslik. He plans to fly there himself to get answers.

Beslik, head of sustainable finance at Swedish bank Nordea, blocked the bank's investment managers from buying any more Vale shares on Jan. 26, the day after a dam filled with mining waste burst its banks, killing hundreds." Vale needs to address the risks associated with tailings dams and deal with its waste material safely if it is to prevent an exodus of global funds and stem the recent share price slide."

He is the latest investor to step back from an industry that is trying to clean up its act.

Vale needs to address the risks associated with tailings dams and deal with its waste material safely if it is to prevent an exodus of global funds and stem the recent share price slide.

"We have a quite comprehensive plan of what we want to get done," Beslik said. "Right now, I have two analysts doing a collection of everything from satellite images to legal requirements, best practices, all of it."

"They have tailings dams all over the world so what are the potential implications for them?"

Fellow investor Robeco, which had been taking part in "enhanced engagement" with Vale since an earlier tailings dam collapse in 2015, has also now put it on a banned list.

Beslik's and Robeco's response shows the growing concern among investors that many of the thousands of tailings dams around the world are not fit for purpose.

"If you have unstable weather patterns that are not following traditional ones… (these dams) did not include that risk when they were built, so they are exposed," Beslik said.

The disaster has called into question the willingness of investors and lenders to continue funding the broader industry.

Vale has lost nearly a fifth of its market capitalisation — just over $15 billion — since the collapse, Brazil's most deadly mining accident, but the closure of some of Vale's operations has driven iron ore prices higher.

Executives, analysts and shareholders, say that reaction masks deep-seated problems for an industry struggling to attract money for new projects because of sustainability concerns.

Susana Penarrubia, head of ESG integration at DWS asset managers, said the incident "confirms once again our very cautious ESG (environmental, social, governance) view on the mining sector".

DWS ESG funds already exclude many mining companies, including Vale, and the asset manager will review positions it holds in Vale on behalf of institutional investors.

It will use any remaining exposure to demand reform.

"We will continue with our engagement activity of putting pressure on Vale as an operator of upstream tailings dams and dams in general to be much more rigorous in their risk assessment and prevention," she said.

Poor data

Investors said they were working to understand tailings dams that store increasingly large amounts of waste from mining operations.

Some banks and investors have called for a new classification system to allow them to assess risks. For now investors may decide it is safer to stay away.

"Investors simply don't have enough information available to make informed decisions, they have to have a degree of trust in the companies and if the risk is too high, then they are out of mining," Ian Woodley, investment analyst at Old Mutual, said.
"Industry-wide, regulatory and technical costs will rise as everyone tries to make tailings dams safer."

One banking source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Vale disaster damaged banks' view of whether mining was "investable from a public equity perspective".

Even mining companies might want to question their business models as Brazil responds to the disaster by seizing assets and carrying out arrests.

Warren Beech, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said mining was trapped in "a perfect storm", struggling against issues of image, sustainability and community opposition.

"Assets are not beyond forfeiture and seizure. No assets in any country are sacrosanct. Governments that feel mining companies are not doing what they should be doing will attack assets," he said.

Vale itself has a safety net as its biggest shareholders – state pension funds that own around a fifth of the company – are unlikely to divest.

Given a strong national belief in mining, analysts say Vale's sell-off could be seen as a buying opportunity for local investors.

In a note this month, UBS analysts said some 80 percent of Brazilian investors polled were weighing buying Vale shares based on its depressed stock price, while only 30 percent of global investors it spoke to shared that enthusiasm.

(By Barbara Lewis, Simon Jessop, Paula Arend Laierand Clara Denina; Editing by Christian Plumb and Elaine Hardcastle)


Brazil bans upstream mining dams after Vale's latest disaster

R.T. Watson

Bloomberg News - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-18/brazil-bans-upstream-mining-dams-after-vale-s-latest-disaster

18 February 2019

Brazil is prohibiting a specific type of tailings dam after two of those structures owned by miner Vale SA burst in recent years, causing death and environmental devastation.

All so-called upstream dams need to be decommissioned or removed by August 2021, according to a resolution the National Mining Agency, or ANM, published on Monday in the nation’s official gazette. Dam owners have until Aug. 15 to complete a technical plan for the dams, which at a minimum need to include reinforcing existing structures or building new retention structures.

In the most recent accident, a dam at Vale’s Feijao mine burst on Jan. 25, unleashing a torrent of mining waste that killed at least 169 people and contaminated rivers in Minas Gerais state.
"A costlier method pre-builds the walls and insulates them"

Vale has said it will spend 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to decommission its 10 upstream dams in the next three years. The upstream method is typically the cheapest way for miners to contain ponds of tailings waste, a byproduct of extracting iron ore. A costlier method pre-builds the walls and insulates them.

The move is unlikely to affect global iron ore supplies significantly. Although more than 80 upstream dams made ANM’s list, the vast majority belong to small miners, many of which are used in the production of minerals other than iron ore.

Stepping up safety, Vale announced on Saturday it was evacuating 200 people near one of its inactive mines in Minas Gerais as a precautionary measure. The company is facing intense public pressure and criticism after its second dam spill in about three years. This most recent tragedy follows another deadly accident from 2015 when a dam ruptured at the Samarco joint venture Vale co-owns with BHP Group Ltd.

Iron ore prices have surged 21 percent this year on supply curbs stemming from Vale’s dam burst. Vale has shut about 70 million tons of supply in the wake of this year’s accident, although it says it plans to partially offset losses by lifting production elsewhere.


Miner Vale evacuates 200 people near Brazilian dam on fears of instability

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-vale-sa-disaster/miner-vale-evacuates-200-people-near-brazilian-dam-on-fears-of-instability-idUSKCN1Q60DO

17 February 2019

A view of the entrance of the B3/B4 Mar Azul mine operated by Vale SA that was evacuated, in Nova Lima, Brazil February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Cristiane Mattos

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Around 200 residents were evacuated from an area near a tailings dam in Brazil operated by Vale SA late on Saturday, amid fears that it was structurally weak and could burst like a similar barrier failure last month that killed 300 people.

Vale said in a statement that it had evacuated people living near the inactive B3/B4 dam of the Mar Azul mine about 25 kilometers south of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, after revising security data on the structure.

Those forced to flee were taken to a community center and would then be put in hotels, the company said.

The evacuation comes little more than a week after two communities located close to nearby dams were forced to leave their homes on similar fears of dam failures.

The collapse last month of a separate Vale dam in the same area unleashed an avalanche of mud that engulfed nearby buildings and farms, killing an estimated 300 people in Brazil’s deadliest mining disaster.

As evidence mounted that Vale missed warnings of trouble at the dam in the town of Brumadinho, pressure has risen on the firm and other mining companies to bolster safety measures to avoid a recurrence.

Another dam, also used to store the muddy mining detritus known as tailings and co-owned by Vale and BHP Group, had collapsed in 2015, killing 19 people and wreaking massive environmental damage.

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Marta Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Susan Fenton


Brazil dam disaster: police arrest eight employees of mining company

The Vale employees arrested on Friday were responsible for the security and stability of the Brumadinho dam

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/15/brazil-mine-collapse-vale-arrests-employees-latest

15 February 2019

Reuters in São Paulo - Brazilian police have arrested eight employees of mining company Vale SA accused by state prosecutors of covering up weaknesses at a dam that collapsed and likely killed more than 300 people.

Police also carried out 14 search warrants as part of the investigation, prosecutors in the mining state of Minas Gerais said.

The arrests and search warrants targeted employees of Vale as well as employees of German auditing firm TÜV SÜD, which had certified the dam as stable.

Vale confirmed the arrest warrants and said in a securities filing it was cooperating with the investigation.

The tailings dam in the town of Brumadinho burst on 25 January, killing at least 166 people. Almost 200 more are still missing.

“The eight Vale employees … had full knowledge of the situation of instability in the dam and each one of them, as part of their job, also had the power and ability to adopt measures for either stabilizing the structure or evacuating areas at risk,” a judge in Minas Gerais wrote in an arrest warrant, issued in response to a petition from the state prosecutor’s office.

Vale said in a securities filing it was cooperating with the investigation.

The latest warrants followed the arrest last month of five Vale and TÜV SÜD employees, who were released by a higher court ruling on 5 February.

The most senior Vale employees arrested on Friday were Joaquim Toledo, the executive director of geotechnical operations, who led the team tasked with monitoring the dam’s stability, and Alexandre Campanha, the executive corporate director of geotechnicals.

No top Vale executives have been arrested.

Also arrested was Hélio Márcio Lopes da Cerqueira, who was allegedly involved in email correspondence about faulty monitoring equipment at the mine, according to newspaper Estado de S Paulo.

Neither Campanha nor Cerqueira could not be reached immediately for comment.

The company’s chief executive officer, Fabio Schvartsman, said on Thursday, in response to questions from lawmakers, that the company’s safety procedures had not worked.

Tailings are the mud-like byproducts, including finely groundrock particles, left over from mining and extracting mineral resources.


NGOs push to expel Brazil miner Vale from UN pact over dam disaster

Reuters - https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN1Q12F6

12 February 2019

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A group of international non-governmental organizations on Tuesday demanded that Brazilian miner Vale SA be excluded from the United Nations’ corporate responsibility pact, after a mining dam burst that killed an estimated 300 people.

A letter signed by more than 15 NGOs said that Vale failed to take proper safety measures at a tailings dam at its Corrego do Feijao iron ore mine in Minas Gerais state. The dam ruptured on Jan. 25, releasing a torrent of mud that buried workers and nearby communities.

The call for Vale to be expelled from the United Nations Global Compact, an agreement encouraging companies to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, is a symbolic step that signals growing international pressure on the company.

Vale declined to immediately comment, but has previously said the dam had all necessary safety certificates and was declared sound by an independent auditor in September.

The NGOs said the dam burst in the town of Brumadinho amounted to a “serious violation of human rights” and “grave environmental damage,” contravening the accord.

They said Vale should have done more to prevent the disaster after a similar incident in 2015 at Vale’s Samarco joint venture with BHP Group killed 19 people and devastated a major river, Brazil’s largest-ever environmental catastrophe.

“The Brumadinho disaster shows that favouring profit over safety has been Vale’s standard operating procedure,” the letter said.

Organizations that signed the letter include Greenpeace Brasil, MiningWatch Canada and the Global Justice Clinic of New York University.

Sao Paulo’s stock exchange on Tuesday also removed Vale from its ISE sustainability index.

 

 

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