UN calls for probe into Vale’s tailings as waste heads to Brazilian river system
United Nations human rights experts called for an urgent and impartial investigation on Wednesday into the collapse of Vale’s tailing dam in Brazil, which killed at least 99 people, as well as into the toxicity of the mining waste, which is now heading towards a river that provides drinking water to communities in five of the country’s 26 states.
Baskut Tuncak, the UN expert on disposal of hazardous substances, asked President Jair Bolsonaro to prioritize safety evaluations of dams and to change licencing procedures to prevent reoccurrence of these kinds of tragic incidents.
As grieving relatives bury family members and rescuers continue searching for 261 people still missing, Brazilian authorities and companies involved with river water management are trying to stop the torrent of mining waste from reaching the Sao Francisco river. Currently, Associated Press reports, the potentially toxic mud has contaminated the smaller Parapoeba river, which flows into the Sao Francisco.
“This leaves a hole in the seaborne iron ore market,” BMO analyst Colin Hamilton wrote on Wednesday. “2019 has gone from a year where we were looking to displace marginal tonnes to one where we will need to incentivize additional higher cost material to market.”
As a result, BMO has hiked its 2019 62% Fe iron ore price forecast to $78 a tonne from a previous $63 per tonne.
The global community has been left with several unanswered questions, particularly about the causes of the dam breach and why Vale didn’t do anything earlier to prevent it. Reuters reported the iron ore producer had identified concerns around its tailings dams in 2009, but did not implement several steps that could have avoided or lessened the amount of damage.
What is known is the tailings dam used at the mine was built in the 1970s using the “upstream construction” method. This is a design that has long been banned in earthquake-prone mining countries such as Chile and Peru because tailings are used to gradually build the embankment walls, making a dam susceptible to damage and cracks.
While Brazil is not as earthquake-prone a nation as its western neighbours, it’s been shown that even small seismic activity can affect tailings dams such as the one near Brumadinho.
Vale estimates it would need about $1.3 billion to decommission its upstream dams, a process that would take place over the next three years.
Click here for complete coverage of the dam burst at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão mine.