It’s been a week since two dams failed at the Samarco iron ore operation in Minas Gerais, Brazil, causing massive flooding in nearby villages that left six people dead and 21 missing, according to local newspaper Estado de Minas. Authorities are still searching for victims along the nearly 100 km (62.5 miles) of area affected. On November 5, the Fundão dam ruptured and the downstream Santarém dam was also affected, resulting in the release of mine tailings that flooded Bento Rodrigues and several other villages. The mine tailings were from the Germano mine, which is managed by Samarco, a joint venture between top miners Vale and BHP Billiton. Officials with both companies have yet to determine a cause for the rupture.
CEO of Vale Murilo Ferreira and CEO of BHP Billiton Andrew Mackenzie said, “We were overcome when we saw the devastation in and around Bento Rodrigues. We cannot rebuild the lives of the families who have lost loved ones, but we redouble our commitment to Samarco to support the response effort.”
“As an immediate step, Vale and BHP Billiton pledge to support Samarco in creating an emergency fund for rebuilding works and to help the affected families and communities. It is our intention to work with the authorities to get this fund functioning as soon as practicable. Vale and BHP Billiton also have health, safety, environment and geotechnical experts on site supporting Samarco’s response. We have also had discussions with Samarco and authorities about the additional support we can provide,” the statement from the CEOs said.
However, this may not be enough. On Wednesday, Estado de Minas reported that Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the government was considering possible punishments against mine operator Samarco and its parent companies BHP Billiton and Vale for the disaster and the devastating effects it has had on the community.
“If federal fines are applicable, we will apply them,” Teixeira said. “There will be punishment, and under Brazilian law the environment has to be repaired.”
Due to the disaster, Vale has reported that production in Vale´s Fábrica Nova/Timbopeba mining operations in its southeastern mining complex may be negatively impacted by 3 million metric tons (mt) in 2015 and 9 million mt in 2016. In addition, Vale said it would no longer sell Run of Mine iron ore from its Fazendão mine to Samarco.
“These are all preliminary assessments, which may change as other alternatives are explored,” Vale said. “However, our first priority at this time is to be completely focused on offering all the necessary support to Samarco and the authorities in assisting the local communities at this very sad time.”