Brazil mine spill not hazardous to human health

Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias

The world’s top iron ore miner said Tuesday that the catastrophic tailings dam burst at its Samarco joint venture mine with BHP Billiton will lead to a $443 million cash flow reduction next year.

Mining at Samarco was suspended immediately following the accident which also knocked out a conveyer belt at Vale’s own Fabrica Nova mine shutting down 9 million tonnes of capacity. The figure does not include any payments stemming from a  lawsuit launched by Brazil’s federal government and two states last week.

Authorities are seeking at least $5.2 billion (20 billion real) over damage to the country’s second largest river system, the Rio Doce caused by the spill or a  250 million real ($65 million) fine, levied by Brazil’s environmental watchdog.

The government attorney general announced the civil damages lawsuit late on Friday, but warned that “the figure is preliminary and could be raised over the judicial process, since the environmental damages of the mud’s arrival at the ocean have not yet been calculated.”

The November 5 disaster that killed at least 13 people caused 60 million cubic metres of mine waste from the site in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state to wash downstream into neighbouring state Espírito Santo through remote mountain valleys reaching the Atlantic ocean 600 kilometres away last week.

Toxic materials, including arsenic, and high levels of lead, aluminum, chromium, nickel and cadmium, were found in the waters of the Rio Doce by a United Nations team and the Institute for Water Management of Minas Gerais (IGAM) state.

Over the weekend BHP Billiton released an update on the accident confirming that according to tests carried out by environmental geochemistry specialists the waste contain only water, soil, iron-oxide and sand, none of which are hazardous to human health.

The Melbourne-based firm also said tests on the sediments carried out by the Brazilian Geological Service (CPRM) from samples taken at four points in the Rio Doce river system over the period 14 November to 18 November 2015 indicate that concentrations of metals obtained at these sites do not significantly differ from the results produced by CPRM in 2010.


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