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Brumadinho won’t break Vale, but the piper still hasn’t been fully paid 

The tailings dam failure on Jan. 25, 2019, killed 257 people and left 13 others missing for an assumed death toll of 270. (Image courtesy of Vinícius Mendonça | Ibama.)

Vale, one of the world’s biggest producers of iron ore and nickel, has been in the news a lot lately. 

The Brazilian miner has been making strikes towards “green” credentials on the nickel side — making deals to supply low-carbon nickel to Sweden’s Northvolt and to EV market leader Tesla. On the iron ore side, it’s building a “green” pig iron plant in Brazil that will be the first to use its Tecnored technology, which reduces the carbon produced in the steelmaking process by replacing metallurgical coal with biomass.

These are all positive actions for long-term profitability and sustainability. However, one piece of recent news — a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lawsuit against Vale related to the Brumadinho tailings dam failure three years ago — is a reminder that the total consequences for the catastrophe are still being tallied. 

In the claim filed on Apr. 28, the SEC alleges that Vale violated U.S. securities law by making false and misleading claims about the safety of its dams prior to the Jan. 25, 2019 collapse of the Fundao dam at its Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Brumadinho, Brazil. The accident killed 270 people and in the words of the SEC, “caused immeasurable environ-mental and social harm.” The SEC also notes that Vale lost $4 billion from its market cap in the days after the dam failure. 

In its claim, the SEC alleges that the company knew Brumadinho was at risk for failure and “deceived investors” about the safety and stability of its dams, all while “taking full advantage” of the U.S. capital markets. 

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