In Brazil, 300 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, two dams containing toxic waste coming from the extraction material in an iron mine owned by Samarco, collapsed pouring water and mud on the river and on the village of Bento Rodrigues Mariana, in Minas Gerais. At least 17 persons died and fifty were injured (their number is provisory since there are dozens missing). Over fifty million cubic meters of sludge and liquid waste coming from the mining and containing highly toxic substances such as mercury was a combination of “toxic sludge and mining wastes, an area of ten soccer stadiums,” as reported the president of the local miners’ union, Ronaldo Bento. The commander of firefighters, Adao Severino, said that “the situation is dramatic, there is mud everywhere”. The area was evacuated.
Samarco mining company has already agreed to pay $ 260 million for the breaking of the two dams, but denied that sludge can be toxic. Despite this they declared to be ready and “make every effort to give priority to the needs of the people who were in the accident.”
Klemens Laschesfki, professor of geosciences at the University of Minas Gerais, said something different: “It’s already been established that wild animals were killed by the mud”.
More than 250 thousand people cannot have access to safe drinking water and the river is coloured orange because of the chemicals products used to reduce iron impurities, the so-called ether amines, which could cause serious damage to the fertility of agricultural land and even modify pH of the river reducing the levels of oxygen in the water.
This is just the latest of a long series of disasters that caused damages to the river Rio Doce due to heavy mining (mainly gold and iron). The river is one of the main communication road between the state of Minas Gerais and the Atlantic Ocean. This is why researchers think that toxic substances coming from the collapse of the two dams could discharge at sea and contaminate the coast.
The damage of the environment would be terrific. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has compared the consequences of those caused by the British Petroleum oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.