MAC: Mines and Communities

Major dam disaster strikes Brazilian communities

Published by MAC on 2007-01-12

Major dam disaster strikes Brazilian communities

12th January 2007

Less than a fortnight into the New Year, a major tailings dam disaster has hit Brazil. Considering that such "accidents" have averaged one a year over the past twenty years, this doesn't augur well for the mining industry's reputation (not to mention the health of communities and the environment) during 2007.

This is one of the few recorded significant collapses of a containment facility at a bauxite mine -although Brazzil Magazine claims that the same company (Rio Pomba Cataguases) was guility of two similar derelictions in 2003 and 2006..

A company spokesperson has denied that toxic materials were released during the dam collapse or that many nearby residents were affected. However, other reports claim that at least 3,000 people have been forced to move from their homes, while water supplies (possibly containing aluminium) for nearby towns had been adversely affected.

The Minas Gerais Environment Secretary has announced that Rio Pomba Cataguases will be fined US$25 million and that the company will not be allowed to reconstruct the dam.

Brazilian Rains Kill Dozens and Broken Dam Leaves

Thousands Without Shelter

José Wilson Miranda , Brazzil Magazine

12th January 2007

Heavy rains in southeastern Brazil have already killed at least 37 people since the beginning of the year. Now the collapse of bauxite mining company Rio Pomba Cataguases' dam, in the state of Minas Gerais, has dumped 2 billion liters (528 gallons) of mud, and possibly aluminum and bauxite in rivers that serve water to several towns near the Rio de Janeiro - Minas Gerais border.

More than 12,000 had to leave their homes in Minas. Now, Cedae (Rio's Water and Sewage State Company) has been monitoring the advance of the contaminated water to Rio cities like Laje do Muriaé, São José de Ubá and Itaperuna, which have together about 90,000 residents.

The mayor of Laje do Muriaé has already declared a state of emergency. Rio's authorities are sending water tank trucks to the area since people will not be able to use the water until the river can be cleaned up.

According to Cedae's analyses the dirty water is 200 times muddier than normal. The degree of impurity is so big that there is no way the liquid can be treated for human consumption.

The dam collapse occurred Wednesday morning, January 10. The disaster caused the overflow of the Fubá river and the flooding of Miraí, the Minas Gerais city where the mining company is located.

Authorities haven't assessed yet the number of people who had their homes flooded by the muddy waters, but it's estimated that some 3,000 have become homeless due to the disaster. Those affected by the cataclysm who couldn't find a place to stay with friends and relatives have been taken to the city council where they are being given clothes, mattresses and food baskets.

Most of those exposed to the waters lost everything they had inside the house. In Muriaé the presence of dead fish led the population to fear that the water has been contaminated with bauxite even tough according to the mining company all there is in the water is clay

Trucks and tractors from the Minas Gerais Rural Foundation are helping with the cleanup. The population has also been given cleaning material to remove the mud of their streets and homes. Copasa, Minas's sanitation company, is also making available its water tank trucks.

There will also be plenty of work for the DER, the roads department. Teams of the DER are already evaluating the situation to repair and possibly rebuild roads and bridges destroyed by the dam collapse.

The Minas Gerais Environment secretary, José Carlos Carvalho, has announced that the Rio Pomba Cataguases company will not be allowed to rebuild the dam and it will be fined US$ 35 million (75 million reais).

Wagner Victer, Cedae's president, applauded Minas Gerais decision to close the guilty mining company and asked exemplary punishment for their owners: "We hope that, besides closing the company, their owners, who are outlaws, will be arrested and put behind bars."

This is the third time since 2003 that the company's dam gives way. In 2003, another dam broke down and 1.2 billion liters of toxic water was poured out into the Pomba and Paraíba do Sul rivers. In March 2006, a leaking let 400 million liters of muddy water escape making its way to Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil Bauxite Mine Closed after Dam Burst


11th January 2006

RIO DE JANEIRO - Minas Gerais state government halted production at Mineracao Rio Pomba Cataguases' bauxite mine at Mirai after a rejects dam burst early on Wednesday, said a state environmental agency (Feam) spokesman.

Mineracao Rio Pomba Cataguases, one Brazil's two refractory bauxite producers, is owned by industrial group Industrias Quimicas Cataguases. It produces 1.15 million tonnes a year of refractory bauxite, used by water and other industries.

"The mine has been shut by the state's vice governor, the state environmental secretariat and Feam pending conclusion of an investigation into the accident," the spokesman said, adding that it will probably stay shut until a containment dyke has been built.

Rio Pomba spokesman Domingos Ciribelli said that the mine in the eastern part of Minas Gerais, was medium sized and supplied bauxite for the primary aluminium industry and for the production of aluminium sulphate used by the water treatment industry.

Feam provisionally estimated that 2 million cubic meters (70.6 million cubic feet) of mud arising from bauxite-washing flooded into the nearby river and surrounding area when the 30-meter (98-feet) high dam burst.

"This is not toxic mud but it is a very large quantity, which causes considerable problems," the Feam spokesman said. "Indications are the accident occurred due to higher than normal recent rainfall," the Feam spokesman said.

It was still unclear late on Wednesday how many people had been affected by the spillage, which occurred in an area of low population density, he said.

Rio Pomba's Ciribelli said that apart from the Feam team, a group of independent engineers have been called to the mine.

"Efforts are already underway to build a containment dyke," he said, adding that in March 2006 the dam had also suffered a minor leakage due to a technical fault, an incident also confirmed by Feam.

Ciribelli dismissed local radio reports that 5,000 local inhabitants had been forced to flee their homes.

"That is untrue, a media exaggeration," he said. "So far we have been informed of four houses that were evacuated in Mirai, which is the only town to have been affected."


Normal drinking water supply suspended in Brazilian cities

Xinhua New Agency

11th January 2007

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Normal drinking water supply was suspended in the cities of Laje do Muriae, Itaperuna y Sao Jose de Uba in Brazil on Thursday after a mining waste leak.

Now citizens in these cities have to depend on water being sent in tankers.

Though containing no toxic materials, the leak added at least 2 million cubic meters of mud into the Muriae River, raising the mudlevel almost 200 times higher than its normal levels, said Wagner Victer, the head of Rio de Janeiro's water and drainage company.

Victer also said that the mud might be fatal for the fish in the Muriae River and possibly in the Paraiba do Sul River as well, which are two of the most important rivers in the north of Rio de Janeiro state.

As the polluted rivers flow to the Atlantic Ocean, it may affect the northern and northwestern regions of the state and twenty-seven city halls have declared a state of emergency.

Due to a dam burst on Wednesday, a mining waste leak dumped tons of runoff into the Muriae River, threatening water supply to cities in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, and affecting about 90,000 people.

The Owner of the dam, The Rio Pomba company, which mines bauxite and calcium, is likely to be fined 50 million reais (23.4 million U.S. dollars), said the government.


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