Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure

HUNDREDS of people are missing and 58 are confirmed dead after a tailings storage facility (TSF) failed at Brumadinho in Brazil’s Minas Gerias state, burying a town some 60km from state capital Belo Horizonte.
Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure Hundreds missing after another Vale tailings dam failure

TSF failure at Vale's Feijão

Paul Harris, Kristie Batten

Vale confirmed in a statement the dam at its Feijão iron ore mine had failed.

Local media reports say a wave of waste material swept over the company's installations and part of the Vila Ferteco community. Images from the scene show an extensive area covered in mud and destroyed houses.

"[The company's] top priorities right now are preserving and protecting the lives of our employees and the community's population," the company said in a statement posted on its website.

As of yesterday, 60 people were confirmed dead but another 292 were still missing. 

Hope of finding further survivors is slim, and the company also has a team of 50 professionals working to rescue local fauna, with around 26 domestic animals rescued.

CEO Fabio Schvartsman did not take responsibility on the company's behalf, saying in a television interview: "I don't know who is responsible, but you can be sure we'll do our part". 

Vale finance and investor relations executive director Luciano Siani Pires gave a press conference overnight, announcing new measures to provide financial and psychological support to the families and early remediation efforts.

Vale will donate 100,000 reais (A$37,100) to the families of each missing person/confirmed fatality, regardless of whether or not they are Vale employees.

"This has nothing to do with indemnification, which needs to be sorted out together with the authorities," said Siani Pires.

A team of psychologists will join the 100 health professionals working on the site.

As a preventative measure, Vale will install a sediment retention barrier close to the water body supplying the city of Pará de Minas, approximately 40 km from Brumadinho.

"Our goal is to prevent any interruption to the municipal water supply," Siani Pires said.

Despite the suspension of the Feijão, Siani Pires said the company would continue to pay royalties.

Brazilian authorities have already blocked US$3 billion of Vale's assets to pay for the clean-up. 

 he mines canteen was in the path of the tailings after the dam collapse The mine's canteen was in the path of the tailings after the dam collapse

The incident is another blow to the reputation of Brazil's largest miner following the November 2015 failure of a TSF at its Samarco joint venture with BHP Billiton, also in Minas Gerais, that spilt 60 million cubic metres of iron ore waste and caused 19 deaths, the largest environmental disaster in Brazil's history.

After the Samarco disaster, Vale reviewed all its tailings dams and Brumadinho passed the inspection. 

In June, 2018, BHP Billiton and Vale signed an agreement with Brazilian authorities to settle a $5.28 billion civil lawsuit related to the Samarco TSF failure and agreed a two-year suspension for a larger $40.97 billion civil claim for social, environmental and economic compensation. 21 mining executives were subsequently charged with manslaughter and environmental crimes.

Global unions IndustriALL and Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) have called for Vale to be held accountable.

"This is a crime, not an accident," IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said.

"We mourn for the dead and sympathise with the victims of this terrible tragedy.

"Vale has failed to learn from the past. And now its workers are paying the ultimate price with their lives. There can be no more excuses. It's time for Vale to listen and take real action to improve safety. The Brazilian authorities must shut down all companies' operations with tailings dams until they are rigorously inspected."

Vale's shares plunged 17.7% in Brazil overnight. 

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