Brazil’s federal government and two states are suing Samarco, an iron ore miner jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Vale, for $5.3 billion over a catastrophic tailings dam burst that devastated the country’s second largest river system, the Rio Doce.
The government attorney general announced the 20 billion real 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 15 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 earlier this 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. On Friday 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.
Vale and BHP also on Friday announced the establishment of a fund of undisclosed size to help restore the environment. Brazil’s environmental watchdog earlier levied a 250 million real ($65 million) fine on Samarco.