'No lessons learned' from Samarco dam burst

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Brazilian government has not learned any lessons from the collapse of iron ore pellet-maker Samarco's Fundão tailings dam in Minas Gerais state two years ago, according to a prosecutor.

"What we can say, after two years, is that there has been no lesson learned by the government, especially the executive and legislative branches, and it seems that they expect another tragedy to happen, which is unfortunate," José Adércio Leite Sampaio, an official at the attorney general's office, said in a TV Globo interview on Monday.

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Sampaio, who is also a federal prosecutor and Doce river's task force coordinator, was quoted as saying that Brazil has 23,000 such dams but only 3,000 are registered. "In other words, the government is not aware of the reality of the risks that these dams present," he said.

In the interview, Sampaio said that current legislation protects mining companies and that there is "great disappointment" when it comes to dam safety. "The legislation that made possible the occurrence of the tragedy has not been modified, it's flawed legislation that gives too much power to entrepreneurs," he claimed.

"At the same time, the monitoring system remains scrapped," the prosecutor said, adding that the body responsible for monitoring dams, minerals production department DNPM, has been recently transformed into a watchdog but its structure remains the same.

Since the dam disaster in November 2015, Samarco, a 50:50 JV between local mining giant Vale and multinational resources group BHP Billiton, has faced lawsuits, including homicide charges, and had its environmental licenses suspended.

The collapse of the Fundão dam at Samarco's Germano complex killed 19 people, including 13 mineworkers, and caused widespread environmental damage. One person is still missing, presumed dead.

The village of Bento Rodrigues (pictured), about 7km downstream, was buried by a flood of mud and waste, which was carried by the Doce river as far as the coast.

Then president Dilma Rousseff described it as Brazil's worst ever environmental accident.