On Thursday, November 5th 2015, the unexpected catastrophe ruined hundreds of towns, took people’s lives and destroyed natural habitats in the Brazilian state Minas Gerais. Two dams at the iron ore mine, holding millions of cubic meters of mining waste gave way – launching one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazilian history.
The water and sediment from iron ore extraction sluiced down a mountainside cascading into the Atlantic ocean in the south-eastern Brazil , releasing thick, reddish, toxic mud in the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools or the volume carried by about 187 oil tankers. The mud contaminated with arsenic, lead, chromium and a variety of other heavy metals surged through rural communities and into the Rio Doce, the major river in this part of Brazil, killing its fauna and flora. People lost their homes, fishermen were left without their jobs and drinking water has been contaminated for hundreds of thousands of people. Protected forests and natural habitat are turned into a desert of mud.
The iron ore mine is operated by Samarco, a joint venture between mining giants Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP. The cause of the double-dam collapse is still investigated,however probably it was the result of lax safety regulations in the Brazilian mining industry.
Samarco has repeatedly said the mud is not toxic. But biologists and environmental experts disagree. Local authorities have ordered families rescued from the flood to wash thoroughly and dispose of clothes that came in contact with the mud. The mining company acted irresponsibly in the face of this tragedy. There was no contingency plan for a situation like this, and at-risk communities were never prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. So far these companies have been fined US$261 million. Minas Gerais has over 700 mines like this one, and 40 of them have dams that could break at any time…