Are we going to sit and wait for the next mine waste disaster?

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Are we going to sit and wait for the next mine waste disaster?

by Jennifer Krill


The village of Bento Rodrigues, covered in toxic mine waste in November. Senado Federal under a Creative Commons Licence

‘If the dam had collapsed at night, everyone would have died,’ said Duarte Junior, a mayor of a city down the river. The Samarco mine waste dam collapsed last month in Minas Gerais, in southwestern Brazil.

The village of Bento Rodrigues was covered by toxic mine waste on 5 November; 16 people died and more than 600 people lost their homes. The dam collapsed in the afternoon, and people told others to leave as they saw the waves of waste coming. The town had no alarm system. It is below a giant earthen mine waste dam, and it did not have an evacuation plan.

The waste destroyed the town, then went down the Doce River. Two weeks later it got to the Atlantic Ocean. Nilo Candido da Silva, who has lived there his whole life told Reuters: ‘I don’t think I’ll ever see it go back to normal.’ He watched the river get full of red-brown mine waste. Then most of the water disappeared and it was only brown mine waste.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian president, promised justice. She has sued the mining company, Vale and BHP Billiton, to get a lot of money to clean up the area. But Brazil often does not enforce environmental laws or action against companies that break the laws.

Why do we wait for a disaster to think about the risk? The Doce River is only one of many rivers that have been destroyed forever by mining. In British Columbia, the Mount Polley mine’s waste dam collapsed in 2014. This was further up the great Fraser River in the salmon run; the salmon are finding it difficult to survive; and so are the First Nations and people who sell the salmon. In August in Durango, Mexico, a mine dam overflowed and two billion cubic meters of water with cyanide went into the La Cruz river.

When mines grow, the waste grows too. And we need the largest dams in the world to keep the waste back. As the dams get older, they have problems. Scientists say we can expect many more mine dam failures in the next few years. Many rivers and ecosystems are at risk.

After the Mount Polley disaster, a BC government brought in new recommendations for dams. They say all governments and industry around the world should follow them. And the United Nations should create a common agreement to deal with these disasters and possible disasters.

You can help stop mining disasters in the future. Here is a letter you can send:

Jennifer Krill is the Executive Director of Earthworks.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).