Death toll from Brazilian dam burst climbs — BHP

Death toll from Brazilian dam burst climbs up — BHP

Image from archives.

The death toll from a burst dam at a BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) and Vale (NYSE:VALE) iron ore mine in Brazil has climbed to 17 from 13, with two people still missing, the Australian mining giant unveiled Tuesday.

The Melbourne-based company and joint venture partners Vale SA and Samarco Minerao SA added they had hired New York-based law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP to probe the cause of the breach, and pledged to release the findings and recommendations with other miners.

The November 5 disaster 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 in a matter of days.

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. By late November Vale seemed to confirm IGAM's findings, but the Rio de Janeiro-based company and BHP Billiton maintain the waste contain only water, soil, iron-oxide and sand, none of which are harmful.

The Brazilian government has said it would impose an “initial” $5.3 billion fine on BHP, Vale and Samarco, and last weekend it ordered Samarco to pay $500 million towards this amount, while freezing the three companies’ existing mining assets in Brazil.

Meanwhile, the miners have set up a fund to compensate victims of the disaster, many of whom are being housed in temporary accommodation. The money will also be used to pay for clean-up of the region.