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Brazil closes 47 unsafe mining dams

16 April, 2020Brazil has ordered the immediate closure of 47 tailings dams as their stability could not be certified. More than half of the mines belong to Vale, the company responsible for the country's worst ever environmental and human disaster.

31 March was the deadline for submitting a safety certificate. On 2 April, Brazil's National Mining Agency announced that 31 dams failed to prove that the facilities were safe, and the required paperwork had not been filed for a further 16 dams.

As the sites do not meet safety requirements, tailings and sediment can no longer be deposited there. Fines will be served where no paperwork was filed.

Thirty-seven of the closed dams are located in Minas Gerais, where two Vale dams collapsed in just four years. In 2015, 19 people were killed when the Mariana dam collapsed, and 272 people lost their lives in the Brumadinho tragedy in 2019.

Lucineide Varjão, IndustriALL regional co-chair, mining sector co-chair and CNQ/CUT president, says:

"Even after large-scale crimes, like Mariana and Brumadinho, many companies continue to show a total disregard for health and safety, putting profits before lives. In addition, workers now have to deal with Covid-19, where workers are getting infected but the mines are still running.

“The mines need to be closed now, and the time should be spent taking the necessary steps to safeguard workers’ health and safety and to protect the environment."

On 1 April, Vale announced three of its dams were at an emergency-level risk of collapsing. The company said it was building containment structures for those dams, expected to be completed in the first half of 2020.

Nilton Freitas, regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean at Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), says:

"Of the 47 dams that have been shut down, more than half of them are run by Vale. But the authorities are doing their job and protecting people, thanks to the huge pressure from civil society organizations and local and international unions. We have all worked together since the Mariana disaster, combining local campaigns with firm international action, including from the OECD."

Following on the Mariana tragedy, IndustriALL and BWI filed an OECD complaint against BHP and Vale SA, for violating OECD guidelines.