Brumadinho: 3 years of impunity amid heavy rains and floods

Heavy rains in Minas Gerais cause flooding and drag toxic mining waste due to the collapse of Vale SA dams.

Photo: MAB

Three years ago, on January 25, 2019, at 12:28 noon, the Dam I of the mine Córrego do Feijão, run by the company Vale SA, collapsed. It contained 12 million cubic meters of mud with toxic waste that spilled over #Brumadinho and continued its course through the Paraopeba River and the San Francisco River.

This mud spill killed 272 people, eleven of which continue missing; it affected dozens of towns and cities, in addition to Córrego and Brumadinho (the closest), since along the rivers these waters were polluted and affected the resources to subsist from artisanal fishing, tourism, agriculture. The socio-environmental impacts are incalculable due to their magnitude, but the MAB (Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams) estimates that at least one million people have been affected by the worst environmental crime in the history of Brazil.

A few days before the third anniversary of Brumadinho, the rains and landslides in towns such as Ouro Preto increased the fear that these avoidable calamities could be repeated in other Vale dams. The second mining company in the world continues to ignore the warnings of collapse that weigh on 36 of its dams with the method “alteamento a montante” (upward straightening) in Minas Gerais.

The Doutor dam in the Antônio Pereira district of Ouro Preto has risk level 1; it was built with “montante” and is owned by Vale. On January 10, due to the advance of heavy rains in the area, Judge Ana Paula Pereira ordered the immediate evacuation of five families who live in the Self-Salvation Zone of the Doutor dam. When the slope of the Morro da Forca hill in Ouro Preto slid on January 13, it damaged historic houses but there were no fatalities. However, to date, in Minas Gerais there are at least 374 cities in a state of emergency and more than 31,000 people have been evacuated (at least 1,500 in Brumadinho).


The “montante” technique for the construction of mining waste dams was used at Córrego do Feijão (from Vale), which broke in 2019 in Brumadinho; in Fundão (owned by Samarco/Vale/BHP Billiton) that broke in 2015 in Mariana, and in Doutor (owned by Vale) in Ouro Preto, as well as 40 other mining dams at risk of collapse.


One day after the third anniversary of Brumadinho, Real World Radio interviewed Leticia Oliveira, a member of MAB/Minas Gerais, to find out how the movement carried out the commemorations on this date and how the fight for reparation continues for those affected:

“The third anniversary of Brumadinho came with a lot of fight, but also with a lot of difficulty for the people to participate, because many were affected by the floods, which caused many losses in the houses and the roads were collapsed. But in addition, the floods cause the toxic mining mud to get into the houses, because the company removed it from the river, the river rises due to the floods and then enters the houses.”

There is also a lot of fear from people that other dams will break due to the rain. In fact, on January 8, a small dam collapsed, which shows “how serious the security situation regarding mining dams is,” Oliveira said.

Currently in Brazil there are 40 dams at high risk of failure: 36 are in Minas Gerais and 29 are from the Vale company.

Ouro Preto is where there are more dams with the ‘montante’ technique and “they must be deactivated to comply with the Minas Gerais law, which mandates this for all dams built with this method,” explained Oliveira, who warned about how mining projects have expanded around urban and rural areas, or even within towns and cities, without guaranteeing any security for the populations.

“The Ouro Preto authorities have had information for years that the situation of the dams there is serious, and yet they did nothing to stop the collapse.”

The MAB carried the slogan #3AñosDeImpunidad (three years of impunity) and Oliveira remarked that Vale has done very little to repair the rights of the people affected by the environmental crime on Brumadinho and Mariana, and on the other communities that live in the surroundings of the 36 dams built with the ‘montante’ technique.

She also recalled that in the case of Brumadinho there is [since 2019] a closed agreement between Vale and the government of Minas Gerais, whose preparation did not have the participation of the movement of those affected, where some individual reparations were agreed (charging the value of a minimum wage), “which do not take into account the various situations in which the affected people were left”.

In Mariana, after 6 years of environmental crime there, “there are no houses ready for people to live there again, nor environmental repair.”

Meanwhile, the rains are expected to continue, intermittently, until March, and the responses of the provincial and federal government authorities leave much to be desired. Knowing that these situations of heavy rains, which cause flooding, have been repeated in recent years with increasing frequency, governments have not yet developed adequate or timely responses, says Oliveira. “It is possible that the river rises again and, these days, people are organizing solidarity networks to provide supplies and food for those affected, and to clean the remains of toxic mud that entered their homes or that has covered the streets,” she detailed.

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