Brazil bans upstream dams following Brumadinho mining disaster

JP Casey 19 February 2019 (Last Updated February 19th, 2019 12:04)

The Brazilian Government has banned the construction of new upstream mining dams following the Brumadinho mining disaster, where an upstream dam at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão iron mine burst, releasing 12 million cubic metres of mining waste into the local region.

Brazil bans upstream dams following Brumadinho mining disaster
Vale’s Bructu mine, in Brazil. Credit: Vale

The Brazilian Government has banned the construction of new upstream mining dams following the Brumadinho mining disaster, where an upstream dam at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão iron mine burst, releasing 12 million cubic metres of mining waste into the local region.

The government has also given mining companies until 15 August to submit plans for the decommissioning of existing upstream dams, which is expected to result in the closure of 80 dams across Brazil.

Upstream dams are frequently used to store mine tailings and wastewater as they can be built up as a mine grows in scale and produces more waste, meaning these dams have low upfront construction costs, and any future costs are absorbed by the mine’s long-term profits. Construction costs can only become high if there is a parallel increase in the mine’s production and profitability. Tailings.info estimates that half of the world’s raised embankment dams used in mines are of the upstream variety.

The collapse resulted in the most deadly environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, with the 169 deaths eclipsing the 93 that followed an oil spill and fire in the town of Vila Socó in 1984. A further 141 people are still missing following the disaster.

Vale has made significant contributions to rescue and rebuilding efforts, helping to evacuate 110 people from the Macacos region ahead of potential future collapses, and funding the construction of a bridge to enable traffic to flow to central Brumadinho.

The company has also made a number of financial contributions to those affected by the disaster, including reparations of around $3,210 to each adult affected by the disaster to help them rebuild their lives, and a further $13,377 donation to individuals within the self-rescue zone immediately surrounding the failed dam. As of last week, 117 people had registered for this donation.

“Vale will fully assist and support the population until the situation stabilises,” said Vale in a statement. “The company provided accommodation, food, transportation, medicines and basic need items, and has a multidisciplinary team composed of psychologists, social assistants and physicians at the help centres, the Macacos Community Center and in two hotels in Belo Horizonte.”

The world’s biggest iron miner has also announced plans to close a further 19 mines to prevent similar disasters from taking place, a move which is expected to cost the company $1.4bn in profits from lost production.