Brazil’s Fukushima

On November 5th 2015, the collapse of mining company Samarco Mining’s Fundão dam in Minas Gerais, which is controlled by Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, released 50 million tons of iron ore waste, contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals in the Rio Doce river. The environmental damage is over 25,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of mud waste contaminating the soil, rivers and water system of an area covering over 850 kilometers.

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It is one of the biggest environmental disasters in Brazilian history.

The mud surged through rural communities and into the Rio Doce, the major river in southeast Brazil. There was no contingency plan for a situation like this, and at-risk communities were never prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. Thousands of lives were radically affected – fishermen, ranchers, the Krenak Indigenous people…

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The dam rupture killed 16 people, left hundreds homeless and polluted a river that flows across two states. The mud has extinguished vast amounts of plant and animal life along a 650km stretch of the river. There are fears for the wildlife that exists along the river. The sea near the mouth of the Rio Doce is a feeding ground and a breeding haven for dolphins and whales. The biggest concern is for the threatened leatherback turtle, because the beach is one of the only regular nesting grounds for the creature in Brazil.

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More than 500 people remain homeless. The community of Bento Rodrigues, which was closest to the mine, may never be habitable again.

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The national water agency, ANA, was concern over toxins in the mining residue  and thats why it baned the use of the river water for human consumption. Hundreds of thousands of residents in the area are still dependent on supplies of bottled water.

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Brazilian government holds the mining giants responsible for one of the nation’s worst ever environmental disasters, and is demanding 5 milliard dollards. Samarco Mining is a joint venture between BHP Billiton and Vale. In a joint statement issued they announced a non-profit fund to support the rescue of the Rio Doce river system. The companies must map out an extensive clean-up plan and work out how to stop mud from contaminating sources of mineral water.

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According to the statement, the actions to recover the Rio Doce river system include the recomposition of the forest, water quality and aquatic fauna, likewise helping to rescue the biodiversity of the Rio Doce river basin.

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Brazilian firemen rescue a foal which was trapped in the mud after a dam burst in the village of Bento Rodrigues, in Mariana, Minas Gerais state, Brazil on Nov. 6, 2015.

Experts have warned that the ecological harm could last a generation. The surviving ecosystem could take decades to regenerate and what comes back would be different.

Mária Odrášková

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