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16 Nov 2015

Bruce Douglas, The Guardian (UK)

Brazil: Environmental agency fines Samarco US$66m for burst of dams; costs of clean-up, lawsuits, compensation not yet included

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“Brazil's slow-motion environmental catastrophe unfolds-Toxic mudslide from collapse of dams spreads as BHP Billiton fined $66m”, 13 November 2015

Nine people are now confirmed dead…and…19 remain unaccounted…[after the]…collapse of two mining dams in Brazil...Brazil’s national water agency…has warned that the presence of arsenic, zinc, copper and mercury now present in the Rio Doce make the water untreatable for human consumption…Marilene Ramos, president of Ibama, the federal environmental agency, said…[:]…“We have thousands of hectares of protected areas destroyed and the total extinction of all the biodiversity along this stretch of the river.” The mine and dams are operated by Samarco…, a joint venture between…BHP Billiton…and…Vale. Ibama announced a preliminary fine of 250m reals (US$66m) for Samarco, but the final cost…will be much, much higher…[as it]…did not include the cost of the clean-up operation, lawsuits and compensation payments…likely to run to between R$5bn-R$10bn (US$1.3bn-US$2.6bn). There will also be operational losses…Samarco has also been stripped of its mining licence…[BHP Billiton]…and…Vale…sent senior management to see the damage caused and promised an emergency fund…around $100m…[T]here are allegations that there had been warnings about the design of the dam and its safety...[T]he mudslide is expected to reach the Atlantic, with a potentially devastating impact on the fishing communities...President Dilma Rousseff described the incident as “possibly the biggest environmental disaster to have impacted one of the major regions of our country”…and laid the blame squarely on Samarco…Brazil’s deputy attorney-general, Sandra Cureau, argued that the companies should be subject to “exemplary punishment”…[:]…“Vale and BHP were totally careless in preventing this…They did not show a plan of action in case of disaster. They had no alarm system in place.”…[T]he chief executives of BHP Billiton, Andrew Mackenzie, and Vale, Murilo Ferreira, offered apologies...

Part of the following timelines

Brazil: Government to sue BHP and Vale over dam disaster that caused deaths & environmental destruction

BHP & Vale lawsuit (re dam collapse in Brazil, filed in Brazil)