01/25/2021

Two years after the Brumadinho dam burst (January 25)

The area is contaminated, without a perspective (Press Release)

Two years after the devastating Brumadinho dam burst, the affected indigenous communities are still suffering from the effects of the disaster. On January 25, 2019, the breach of dam B1 at the Córrego do Feijão iron mine, near Brumadinho, had caused a toxic mudslide. The catchment basin could not hold back the masses, hundreds of people were killed, and the fertile soils along the Paraopeba River were contaminated. For the indigenous communities of the Pataxó and the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, the river is of essential importance as a drinking water supply and as part of their cultural identity. "The government is paying the people a small pension, but it is barely enough to survive," explained Juliana Miyazaki, expert on indigenous communities at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "There are no initiatives to clean up the area and to restore the ecosystem – and there seems to be no long-term perspective."

According to a study by Brazil's National Water Agency, published immediately after the disaster, up to 21 times higher levels of heavy metals were found in the waters – including manganese, lead, mercury, and arsenic. A second study in late 2019 found slightly lower levels of contamination. "However, experts warn that the ores deposited in the riverbed could resurface after heavy rains and contaminate the water again," Miyazaki said. "And our indigenous contacts in the region tell us that there have been no new measurements at all for more than a year."

According to Arakuã Pataxó, who lives in the region, no further action has been taken. The river remains contaminated. In any case, he said, the water is not usable – neither as drinking water, nor for cooking or washing. "Vale and the government should respect our mother nature, our river, our clean air and our people – and the judiciary should enforce our constitutional rights," he stated.

Mining company Vale and the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais are currently negotiating compensation payments. If no agreement is reached by January 29, a court will decide on the amount. However, this process could take ages.

The Munich-based TÜV Süd AG, which had certified the dilapidated dam as safe only a few weeks before the disaster, informed the STP that it does not consider itself responsible. Together with the Pataxó and the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, the human rights organization has filed a complaint against the company at the OECD.