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Brazil – mining flood destroys everything in its way

24 November, 2015IndustriALL offers its solidarity to the residents and workers of Mariana, Brazil, victims of the environmental disaster caused by the collapse of a dam at a mine owned by Samarco Mineração S.A. The tide of toxic sludge has killed nine people, flora and fauna, and 19 people are still missing. 

On 5 November, the mining company Samarco, owned by the Brazilian company Vale and BHP Billiton, was the scene of one of the worst mining tragedies in Brazil’s history. A dam containing residues collapsed, releasing a toxic wave flooding the valley and killing a dozen people while injuring others. An estimated 500 people have been displaced from their homes.

The sludge and mining residues reached the River Doce, which is a source of drinking water in the south east of Brazil. As a result, Municipal authorities have had to ban use of river water for human consumption. The contaminated water has now reached the Atlantic Ocean.

In this atmosphere of sadness and devastation, trade unions and environmental and human rights movements and organizations have expressed their solidarity with those affected. On 10-12 November, the VI Plenary of the Congress of the National Chemical Workers’ Confederation affiliated to the CUT (CNQ/CUT), and an IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, declared its solidarity with the people of Mariana and workers employed at the mining company.

At its congress, the CNQ/CUT said:

“We hope that the authorities, the Ministry of Labour and inspectors treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves and take all the steps necessary to ensure it cannot happen again.”

After detailed negotiations, BHP Billiton issued a communiqué on 17 November, confirming that Samarco has signed a preliminary commitment with Brazilian prosecutors, guaranteeing payment of US$260 million to fund a range of emergency measures, including prevention, remediation and compensation for the environmental and social effects of the incident.

Fernando Lopes, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, said:

It is very important that Samarco pays reparations for the damage but there is no way it can bring back the people who have died. Companies must invest in personal and environmental security in order to avoid accidents like this.