Tragedy in Brumadinho: Justice ruling banning dams like those that broke in MG arrives two years late

By | January 31, 2019

A decision taken this week by the Justice of Minas Gerais, which meets a request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2016 to avoid disasters with dams, eventually came too late for Brumadinho (MG).

The Justice of Minas Gerais granted on Tuesday (29) an injunction (provisional) that prevents the Minas Gerais government from granting new licenses for operations in dams that use the “upstream upstream” method. By the decision, activities already existent in this type of structure are conditioned to “extraordinary technical audit”.

  • Which means, in practice, the decision of Vale to end dams like those of Brumadinho
  • Six more mining projects in MG called for ‘quick licensing’ like Brumadinho’s

Both the Mariana (MG) dam, which was broken in 2015, killing 19 people and destroying the Rio Doce ecosystem, and that of Brumadinho, which left 99 dead, 259 missing and hundreds injured, are “upstream.” The technique is considered more economical, but also more dangerous.

In this case, the mineral, rock and earth debris excavated during mining – and discarded for having low commercial value – are deposited in layers in a valley, forming the dam. As the waste contains water, the dam must be constantly monitored and drained in order not to give way.

Now, with the decision of the 3rd Public Treasury Court of Belo Horizonte, all pending licensing processes involving this type of structure should be suspended. And the Minas Gerais government will have to submit in 30 days the list of projects that already have an operating license, along with the documents proving that the extraordinary audit was carried out.

This survey does not include annual routine inspections carried out by the mining companies themselves, such as that carried out by TUV SUD, a German company contracted by Vale to verify the safety of the dam at Córrego do Feijão mine in Brumadinho.

The intention of the public civil action filed in December 2016 by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was to prevent further tragedies after the breakdown of the Mariana dam.

But the injunction only came more than two years later.

Action cited Brumadinho

At the request for the end of the “upstream” tailings storage model, the task force that investigated the Mariana dam collapse classifies this “killer” method.

“Many lives have already been lost because of the use of outdated technology from upstream dams. We can not keep pushing for error if alternate paths exist,” the developers wrote.

Public civil action lists 37 dams upstream in the licensing process in 17 cities. The list included Brumadinho.

In December 2018, Vale obtained the approval of a 10-year license to resume activities at the Brumadinho 1 dam at the Córrego do Feijão mine, with the purpose of reusing part of the waste deposited there.

The dam, which was built in 1976, had been shut down since 2015. More modern technologies have allowed the use of excavated material from mines previously discarded. Hence Vale’s intention to reuse the tailings.

The process to obtain this authorization was “expressed”, through the so-called Concomitant Environmental Licensing 1, known by the acronym “LAC1”. Traditional licensing is done in three phases and can take years, while the “concomitant” is done in one step. Across the state, at least six more mining ventures have requested such licensing .

Less than a month after Vale obtained this authorization to resume activities at the dam, it broke. The mining company says it had not started to reuse the tailings and that there was “no operational activity in progress”.

But in an interview with Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, residents reported having seen trucks carrying tailings from the dam since the end of last year. The Movement for the Mountains and Waters of Minas, according to the newspaper, is collecting the testimonies to present to the Public Ministry of MG.

What the judge says in the decision

The injunction that meets the request of the MP was granted by the auxiliary judge of the 3rd Public Treasury Court of Belo Horizonte Renata Bomfim Pacheco, who began working in that section last year. Before, the lawsuit was with another judge.

In the decision, Pacheco demands that the Minas Gerais government refrain from granting or renewing environmental permits for new dams; prevents the granting of licenses for new activities or expansion of existing dams; and establishes that the activity of existing operations – which have already been granted licenses – are “conditional upon extraordinary technical security auditing”.

It still imposes a fine of R $ 100 thousand in case of noncompliance. “It can be concluded that the environmental standard, using the upstream technique, is inefficient and is urgently requiring the reconciliation of mining activity with the environment and human capital, fauna and flora, there inserted, “he says.

In a statement released on the official website, the Environment and Sustainable Development Secretariat (SEMAD) reported that it published a resolution on Wednesday (30) suspending all analyzes of ongoing environmental regularization processes related to the disposal of tailings in dams, regardless of the constructive method.

“The measure is valid until new regulatory rules are published by the competent bodies,” the note said.

One question is whether upstream dams that are in operation today but have not gone through an extraordinary audit, as required by the judge, will have suspended activities.

BBC News Brazil contacted the Minas Gerais government’s advice to ask what would be done before the Justice’s decision, but it did not get answer until the publication of this report.

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