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Brazil seeks billions in dam spill damages

November 27, 2015

Vale and BHP are both being sued by Brasilia for billions. A dam at a mine owned by the two companies burst earlier this month, killing 13 and causing massive environmental damage.

Brasilien Rio Doce Damm Bruch Überflutung Atlantik Protest
Image: Reuters/R. Moraes

The Brazilian government announced on Friday that it would file a lawsuit against mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton over a dam burst that unleashed 60 million cubic meters of mining waste, killing at least 13 people. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said Brasilia was suing to the tune of 20 billion reais ($5.2 billion, 4.9 billion euros), and that the charges would be brought up on Monday.

"It is not a natural disaster, it is a disaster prompted by economic activity, but of a magnitude equivalent to those disasters created by forces of nature," Teixeira said.

Attorney General Luis Inacio Adams said all winnings from the case would go to a fund for environmental cleanup in the Rio Doce Valley.

In a statement issued by his office, Adams said that the suit should help "guarantee long-term financing for actions to revitalize the (river) basin."

UN contradicts claims the spill was nontoxic

Vale, the world's largest iron ore miner, and BHP, the world's largest mining company, are co-owners of the Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil's Minas Gerais region. The dam at the mine collapsed earlier this month, devastating a local village. Despite Samarco's claims to the contrary, the United Nations' Human Rights agency declared on Wednesday that the mud was indeed toxic.

Vale's head of sustainability, Vania Somavilla, on Friday also confirmed to Reuters news agency that toxic material, including arsenic, was found in the water in the Rio Doce. Somavilla told reporter, however, that the material had not been stored behind the dam but may have reached the river from surrounding mud flow.

Brazil's environmental protection agency, Ibama, has already fined Samarco.

The flood plain covers some 80 kilometers of land, on top of pollution the Rio Doce. The current of dense orange sediment reached the ocean over the weekend, hurting a heavily tourism-dependent region.

Even ahead of the government announcement, Vale's share price fell by 5.78 percent in the Sao Paulo stock market on Friday. At the same time, Vale and BHP released a statement saying they, along with Samarco, would create a fund to aid in the clean-up of the Rio Doce and the surrounding area, though they did not elaborate on the amount they would put in the fund.

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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