The Brumadinho dam burst, the most recent instance in Vale’s long list of regulatory violations, has resulted in 121 deaths so far, with the number expected to rise
With the death toll in the Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil rising to 121, and another 226 people still missing after 11 days of the collapse, there is little hope that anyone else will be found alive. According to reports, no one has been found alive since the day after the collapse on January 25. This has surpassed Brazil’s worst environmental disaster in terms of human casualties, the 2015 Mariana dam burst, for which the same multinational private giant, Vale, was responsible.
The Brumadinho dam, in the state of Minas Gerais, was a tailing dam used to store mining waste and sludge, with a capacity of 1 million cubic metres. When it burst, the dam released 11.7 million cubic metres of toxic mining waste which went crashing into homes in Brumadinho and also the Vale office. The family members of the missing people have been lining up at the rescue operation site for more information, but Vale has not yet said anything about what went wrong.
Lessons learnt from 2015 disaster?
This disaster comes just three years after the Mariana dam burst in which 19 people lost their lives due to the 62 million cubic metres of toxic mud that was released. The dam was jointly owned by Vale and the English Australian BHP.
Both the dams were constructed using the same “upstream” technique, in which the wall of the dams are built using tailings, and are designed to grow as more waste is pumped in. It is the cheapest method of constructing tailing dams, and also proven to be the least safe. In Chile, this method of construction is banned.
Even the cause of this disaster is likely to be the same as the previous one. Minas Gerais’ deputy minister for environmental regulations, Hildebrando Neto, told Reuters that the dam is likely to have collapsed due to liquefaction, when the solid constituents of the structure, such as sand and dried-mud, lost strength and started behaving like liquids.
Thus, Vale does not seem to have learnt any lessons, and little has been done to hold it accountable and change the conditions of regulation of dams in Brazil.