Location and impacts of the tailings storage-facility failure at the Samarco mine in Brazil, November 2015
The mineral-rich area known as the Iron Quadrangle is located in Minas Gerais state in south-east Brazil. There are more than 300 mines in operation (including gold, topaz, niobium, manganese, diamond and other ores and gems), producing more than 17 per cent of the state’s revenue. Mining activity dates back to the eighteenth century and has shaped both the environment and urban development. Among these mines is the Germano mine, close to the city of Mariana, which is operated by Samarco – a joint venture between Vale SA and BHP Billiton, two of the largest mining companies in the world. It produced just over 23 million tonnes of iron ore pellets in 2014 and in the process, generated almost 20 million tonnes of tailings (Samarco 2015). On 5 November 2015, the mine’s Fundão dam breached, releasing an estimated 33 million cubic metres of mine waste (Samarco 2015a; Grupo da Força-Tarefa 2016). The tailings slurry flowed down the valley as a high-density mudflow and inundated parts of the village of Bento Rodrigues. Nineteen people were killed, including village residents and Samarco employees. The slurry reached the Doce River Valley, the fifth largest river basin in Brazil, and travelled for 650 kilometres until it reached the Atlantic coast 17 days later.
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From collection: Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident