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Brazil steps up fight to tackle tailings dam deficiencies

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Brazil steps up fight to tackle tailings dam deficiencies

Highlights

  • Brazilian authorities and legislators are taking steps to tackle the poor state of tailings dams of mining companies

  • The senate approved this week stricter controls and penalties for operating tailing dams at a time when incidents are increasing sharply
  • The bill, which now only needs the final approval of the president, establishes a fine of up to 1bn reais (US$181mn) for mining companies involved in tailings dam accidents
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Brazilian authorities and legislators are taking steps to tackle the poor state of tailings dams of mining companies.

Prosecutors on Thursday said they filed a petition in a court requesting interventions in iron ore giant Vale to ensure dam safety policies.

“Contrary to what is publicly stated, Vale has developed over time an internal culture of disregard for environmental and human risks, in which it appropriates the profits from its operations, but passes on to society risks and deleterious effects of its management, leading to a real situation of organized irresponsibility,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Vale, Brazil’s largest miner and one of the world’s biggest iron ore producers, was hit by two of the worst mining disasters on record.

In 2015, a dam in Mariana city in Minas Gerais state that was operated by iron ore pellet producer Samarco, a JV between Vale and BHP, collapsed and killed 19 people as well as causing massive environmental damage.

Just over three years later Vale’s Brumadinho tailings dam, also in Minas Gerais, collapsed and caused some 250 deaths and pollution of a large area, including a major river.

“I had the impression that after the Brumadinho tragedy, Vale would adopt measures to avoid new problems, but it seems to me that Vale is an incorrigible company, they are creating difficulties to pay compensation to victims and also are not adopting extra safety measures at their sites,” Maximiliano Garcez, a lawyer representing a mineworkers union in Minas Gerais state and families of victims of the tragedies, told BNamericas.

Meanwhile, Vale denied any wrongdoing and stressed its policies to improve safety of dams and workers’ conditions.

“Vale clarifies that the current management practices of its mining structures reflect the best global references in the sector,” it said in a statement on Thursday. “In line with the continuous improvement of these practices, as it develops in the market, Vale has implemented changes over the past 18 months to further strengthen the safety of its operational processes and the management of its geotechnical structures.”

 

NEW REGULATION

The condition of tailings dams is also worrying legislators.

The senate approved this week stricter controls and penalties for operating tailing dams at a time when incidents are increasing sharply.

The bill, which now only needs the final approval of the president, establishes a fine of up to 1bn reais (US$181mn) for mining companies involved in tailings dam accidents.

In addition, the use of upstream tailing dams – such as the one in Brumadinho – is prohibited. Mining companies will have until February 25, 2022, to end the use of those types of dams. Since the Brumadinho tragedy, Vale has stopped using upstream dams.

However, senators agreed that the deadline may be extended by mining regulator ANM on technical grounds. Any decision on an extension must be endorsed by the environmental agency.

Meanwhile, senators removed from the original bill the obligation for mining firms to acquire insurance for projects. According to the bill as approved, ANM will be responsible evaluating case by case the need for insurance.

Mining companies will be required to increase oversight of their dams, and must immediately notify the watchdog, the environment agency and other public agencies of any changes in the safety conditions of a dam that may result in an accident or disaster.

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According to the senate, criminal penalties for company executives related to accidents will be discussed in a separate bill.

 

DAM CONDITIONS

Conditions of dams in general in Brazil, including tailings and water reservoirs, have deteriorated due to a lack of investments in maintenance.

Currently, Brazil has 19,388 dams, according to water regulator ANA. Last year, the number of dams in critical conditions increased 130% to 156.

The dams in critical condition are located in 22 states: Acre, Alagoas, Amapá, Amazonas, Bahia, Ceará, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondônia, Roraima, São Paulo and Tocantins.

In addition, the number of accidents and incidents involving dams increased last year.

In 2019, there were 12 accidents and 58 incidents related to dams, up from three accidents and two incidents in 2018.

“This increase is probably due to a combination of factors, such as more events like floods, poor conditions of the conservation of dams and, above all, increased official registers of accidents and incidents made by authorities,” ANA said.

 

 

Originally published by BN Americas.


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