No punishment 5 years after the Fundão dam tragedy

The collapse of the Fundao tailings dam in 2015 killed 19 people and polluted hundreds of miles of rivers. (Image: Agência Brasil Fotografias)

On November 5th, 2015, the Fundão dam, owned by Samarco – controlled by Vale and BHP – burst, releasing 39.2 million cubic meters of tailings waste in the Rio Doce Basin. It was the biggest environmental disaster ever in Brazil.

Along the way, the mud caused the death of 19 people and a series of impacts in 39 municipalities along 670 kilometres from Minas Gerais to Espirito Santo state.

Five years later, Brazilian prosecutors say that the Renova Foundation, created by the miners for the reparation of the damages did not deliver any of its promises.

A civil action asks for $27.4 billion to repair the damage

“It is sad, the disaster destroyed an area equivalent to Portugal territory and none of the victims, agricultures, fishermen, workers or indigenous people received full compensation,” said Brazilian federal prosecutor Silmara Goulart.

“The emergency support for families was suspended in the midst of the pandemic, in communities that already face insecurity to the consumption of water and fish, with houses that still present cracks.”

The prosecutors also said the companies did not hire independent technical advisors to support the victims, as part of an agreement.


Of the 21 people who had been charged in 2016 by the Federal Public Ministry for the crime of qualified homicide with possible intent, five continue to respond to a lawsuit in the Federal Court. Today, however, they are responding to flood and landslide crimes followed by death, as well as environmental crimes. The crime of homicide was removed from the process in 2019. Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco are defendants in this process.

Last week, prosecutors accused BHP and Vale of colluding with a lawyer to reduce compensation for victims and interfere with a landmark lawsuit against BHP in the UK.

Indigenous people recently blocked Vale’s rail road in Aracruz, to protes

In a 91-page document attached to court filings on Thursday, prosecutors in Minas Gerais state criticized a judge who accepted compensation limits for nine plaintiffs and then extended the limits to all victims in Baixo Guandu, Espirito Santo state, affected by the sludge flowing down river from the disaster. Details of the decision are under seal.

“Moral damages” claims were limited to 10,000 reais ($1,780), a little more than a minimum wage in Brazil.

The prosecutors said the judge ruled under seal in the case, without the proper participation of the prosecution office, despite requests for access.

The decision would end liabilities for BHP, Vale and Samarco for victims who accept the compensation, the prosecutors said. Victims who received payouts under the decision would have no chance to claim further compensation outside the country.

BHP is also the subject of a $6.3 billion lawsuit in the United Kingdom brought by 200,000 Brazilian people and groups. BHP has called the lawsuit “pointless and wasteful.”

“Those affected are anxious to receive this low compensation because they have been waiting for five years. Curiously, despite the defeat, the companies have not appealed the indemnities” said federal prosecutor Edilson Vitorelli. 

On Thursday, prosecutors filed new a lawsuit contesting the compensation package.

The Federal Public Ministry asks that the payment may be extended to all the victims and that all other liabilities continue. A civil action asks for $27.4 billion to repair all the damages.

Indigenous people recently blocked Vale’s rail road in Aracruz, to protest. In total, 3,400 indigenous people were affected by the disaster.

Credit: Associação Indígena Tupiniquim de Comboios

The Renova Foundation told MINING.COM that as of August 31, approximately R $ 2.6 billion ($450 million) had been paid in indemnities and emergency financial aid to 321,000 people.

“The new compensation system covers several professional categories, which, due to their degree of informality and difficulty in proving it, could not be compensated,” said Renova, mentioning artisans, fishermen, small farmers and mineral extractors.

Vale said that, as a shareholder in Samarco, reinforces its commitment to repair the damage caused by the Fundão dam rupture, providing all support to the Renova Foundation.

“These programs have so far received more than R $10 billion ($1.7 billion). Vale also informs that it observes the legal procedures and respects all agreements signed between the parties, in the course of the judicial process.”