What Mining Companies Can Learn From the Brumadinho Disaster in Brazil

Rafael Augusto B.L. de Oliveira | Brazil

On the afternoon of January 25th, one of Vale’s tailing dams located in Brazil, Brumadinho, which was used to store remains of minerals extracted, burst. Consequently, an entire mining operation and a small town were almost entirely wiped from the map. The company responsible, Vale S.A is a Brazilian multinational corporation that conducts metal refinement and mineral extraction operations. It’s one of the largest companies in the logistics sector in Brazil. The Brumadinho disaster could’ve been avoided if the tailing dams were subject to regular inspection and proper maintenance. The worst of all is that this isn’t the first time Brazilian citizens have to suffer at the hands of unscrupulous, dishonest greedy entrepreneurs who put their profits over the wellbeing of their employers.   

In 2015, Samarco, another big player in the mining extraction business, had one of their tailing dams burst in the town of Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The burst occurred due to lack of regulations. Greedy mining Corporations fail to provide better safety measures and maintain their equipment properly. In the end, those involved in the mining operations and the population of a town close to it paid a big price for their negligence.  

Samarco’s tailing dam burst in Mariana, Brazil 2015 

Vale’s tailing dam burst in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil 01/25/2019 

Tailing Dams

Every mining operation produces several kinds of wastes no matter what type of mineral they are extracting. This is where tailing dams come in hand. Unlike a normal dam, which is only used to store water temporarily, tailing dams are normally used to store byproducts of a mining operation after their extraction.  

As a consequence, this makes a tailing dam much more dangerous in case it breaks. Unlike a normal dam, which will flood only nontoxic liquids if it breaks, a tailing dam can flood liquid, solid materials or a slurry of fine particles into the environment. And since these materials are usually toxic waste, they can be very harmful to the environment. Not only they can make the soil infertile but they can also be a fatal health risk to those who come into contact.

Who do we hold Responsible?

The government and the company’s department of engineering are also to blame for the Brumadinho disaster. Had they made more frequent inspections and better maintenance of the tailing this entire disaster could’ve been avoided. This burst tailing dam was built with a method that has already been banned from other Latin American countries such as Chile and Peru for safety reasons. 

Arrests

Several members of the mining company, are currently under arrest. From engineers who were responsible to maintain the tailing dam to top Vale executives. As of now, Brazilian law enforcement issued a total of five arrests warrants and seven search warrants. They suspect that the company failed to uphold proper safety measures and masked it by falsifying documents about the current state of the burst tailing dam and its environment. 

Aftermath

As of now, some of the search and recovery efforts made by are beginning to slow down due to the belief that most of the victims are already dead by now. The death toll will be around 200. Thus, making their Brumadinho disaster one of the worst human disasters in the history of Brazil. 

After all those tragic occurrences Vale’s Chief executive Fabio Schvartsman, has stated to the press that after carefully reviewing the Brumadinho disaster and the company’s future projects, Vale’s executive board has decided to shut down all of their remaining tailing dams and freeze 10 mining operations scattered in Brazil. They plan on implementing safer means of storing mineral wastes and slowly decommissioning their dams. 

Impact on the company’s budget

According to financial experts at Vale. This massive shutdown of operations will make the corporation halt the production of 40 million tons of iron ore. This translates to a big financial loss in exportations to the company, especially to the Chinese market.  

Things don’t look any brighter for the company’s future. Shareholders and families of victims of the Brumadinho disaster are suing the company. It will be a long time until the company can recover from this.

Hopefully, both the Brazilian government and mining companies will take precautions to avoid future catastrophic accidents such as this one. This mistake costed several lives and almost an entire town and its environment wiped from the map. I wonder if Vale S.A will remain the largest iron ore and nickel producer in the world. Nevertheless, humans’ lives should never be at stake for more profit by greedy entrepreneurs. 


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