UPDATED: Brumadinho Disaster: Sixteen Charged With Homicide, Environmental Crimes

21 Jan 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat

This article was updated 22 January.

Sixteen executives were charged with homicide and environmental crimes 21 January by Brazilian prosecutors a year after the Brumadinho dam disaster that killed up to 300 people. They include Fabio Schvartsman, former head of mine operator Vale SA, ten others from Vale and five from the company’s German safety auditor TUV Sud. The companies themselves also will face charges of environmental crimes.

Further OOSKAnews coverage of the Brumadinho disaster (14 Articles)

Vale issued a statement acknowledging the charges, saying that the company "…reiterates its solidarity with the families of the victims and the people affected by the tragedy and its confidence on the complete clarification of the causes of the dam breach, reaffirming its commitment to continue to fully co-operate with the authorities”.

State prosecutor William Garcia Pinto Coelho, said Vale had executives systematically hide evidence of safety concerns and retaliated against auditing firms that flagged problems and that TUV was compensated for knowingly presenting Vale with misleading reports about dam stability.

Meanwhile, marking the one year anniversary of the disaster, a march commenced this week in Belo Horizonte which will travel throughout the Paraopeba River basin and is set reach Brumadinho 25 January, activist group Movement of People Affected by Dams said. (Mining Journal)

An “expert panel” appointed by mine operator Vale SA released its own report last month on the January 2019 dam disaster assessing that the dam breach was caused, at least in part, by excess water levels. That report said that there was no seismic activity or warning that the dam was unstable nor were there any explosions in the area at the time the dam burst.

The experts examined technical factors leading to the disaster and attributed the breach to the effect of water in weakening the solid materials composing the dam so that they behaved more like a liquid: known as liquefaction. But, as reported in Insurance Journal, the panel’s report said there were “no apparent signs of distress prior to failure.”(Reuters)

Tailings dams provide waste disposal for mining companies, whether excess iron ore, gold, copper or coal. In the case of Brumadinho, the dam collapse was set in motion by several factors, including poor internal drainage and intense rain.

As reported by OOSKAnews in December, a panel of experts that examined the technical factors leading to the disaster attributed the breach to the liquefaction effect of water in weakening the solid materials composing the dam so that they behaved more like a liquid. The panel’s report said there were “no apparent signs of distress prior to failure”.

Workers reported as early as July 2018 that repairs were carried out after the dam leaked water near its base. Further, a manager at the mine is reported to have told authorities that the corporate's executive board knew there had been a "decrease in security" at the Brumadinho dam in advance of the catastrophic January burst that caused an estimated 300 deaths. Vale denies these allegations.

Further assessment is ongoing as the causes of water seepage into the dam with the University of Barcelona and Porto University (Portugal) assisting the criminal investigation in data evaluation.