Experts blame Vale’s deadly dam collapse on drainage issues

The Brumadinho disaster came less than four years after another dam collapse at the Samarco joint venture between Vale and BHP in the same region. (Image of the Brumadinho disaster by Guilherme Venaglia | Wikimedia Commons.)

A deadly dam collapse at one of Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) iron ore mines in Brazil, which left at least 270 dead, was the result of mainly drainage problems, which caused “persistently high water levels” that weakened the facility’s walls, a report by a panel of experts appointed by the company’s legal advisers says.

The document, released by Vale on Thursday, said there was no warning that the dam was unstable, and that no seismic activity or explosions in the area were recorded on the day the dam burst in late January.

German prosecutors have simultaneously opened an investigation into Tüv Süd, which certified the failed dam as safe days prior to its collapse 

Simultaneously, German prosecutors have opened an investigation into Tüv Süd, which certified the failed dam as safe days prior to its collapse. The preliminary probe, WSJ.com reports, could be the first step towards criminal charges against the safety auditor.

Brazilian authorities are in the midst of a separate probe that may also end in criminal charges against the mining company, 13 of its employees and the German inspector.

Police said the parties presented fake documents backing the stability of the dam and could face up to 18 years in jail if found guilty.

None of Vale’s top executives at the time of the tailings dam burst, the company’s worst crisis in its 76-year history, have been charged. But two of the company’s board members stepped down early this month in relation to the incident.

Their departure added to a long list of individuals to have left Vale this year in connection to the deadly accident. Among them is former chief executive officer, Fabio Schvartsman, who has been accused of dismissing an email alerting him about the urgent need to increase safety at the Córrego do Feijão mine’s tailings storage facility.

The incident, near the town of Brumadinho, has since triggered a number of criminal investigations, a global inquiry into the status of 726 tailing dams, as well as several claims that Vale knew about the fragile state of the structure but did nothing.

The Feijão mine is part of Vale’s southern system operations, which is made up of three mines and two ports and accounts for about a quarter of the company’s iron ore output.

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