Brazil’s dam disaster to threaten biodiversity: report

[Brazil] The wave of mud and iron ore mining waste caused by the rupture of two tailings dams in southeastern Brazil will have a significant negative impact on biodiversity when it reaches the ocean, local daily O Estado de Minas reported Wednesday.

The collapse of the dams in the state of Minas Gerais on Nov. 5 has left at least 11 people dead and 12 others missing. The investigation into the incident is underway.

According to the report, the wave of mud has crossed state borders and reached the Doce River in southeastern Brazil. Fish and animals that inhabited the river banks were killed, and water distribution was affected.

The Doce River flows to the Atlantic Ocean, where the mining waste is expected to reach later this week. It will cause even more damage at that point, an expert told the paper.

According to Andre Ruschi, a biologist with the Augusto Ruschi Marine Biology Institute, several species native to Brazil’s southeastern coast will be affected by the mud wave.

There is an important area where sea animals reproduce near the mouth of the Doce River, he said, adding that whales, sea turtles and sharks will be hit by the pollution.

“The coast in the state of Espirito Santo is the ‘sea Amazon’ of the world,” the paper quoted Ruschi as saying. “We have the largest bank of algae, limestone and corals in the world there.”

Although Samarco, the owner of the two ruptured dams, claimed that the mud was not toxic, analyses of the material showed high concentration of such heavy metals as arsenic, aluminum and lead.

The disaster, believed to be the world’s largest mining waste accident in terms of volume of material spilled, may be far from over. Samarco on Tuesday admitted that there is a risk of rupture in two other dams in the affected area, one filled with water and another with mining waste.

Samarco, co-owned by mining giants Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia, has received a 250 million-real (66 million-U.S. dollar) preliminary fine from the federal government and signed an agreement to pay a fine of 1 billion reals (264 million U.S. dollars) in a month.

The fines, though, are regarded as exceptionally low given the damage caused by the incident at present and in the future, and compared with fines enforced in accidents of the same scale in other countries.

 

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