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Brazil faces environmental disaster. The toxic mudslide has reached the ocean

In seguito al cedimento di due dighe, nel sud est del Brasile, i liquami velenosi sono arrivati nell’Oceano Atlantico e potrebbero impiegare 100 anni prima di essere riassorbiti completamente.

Brazilian Fukushima”. This is how the tragedy that hit Brazil on 5 November due to the collapse of two dams has been called. The name gives an idea of the seriousness of the social and environmental disaster, even if its extent still remains unclear.

 

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Aerial image shows the toxic mud in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Espirito Santo, where thel Rio Doce reaches the sea © Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

 

The collapse of the dams owned by the mining company Samarco, which were built to contain wastewater, has caused 11 deaths and left 12 missing. It is the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, and one of the most dangerous in the world.

 

The mudslide that covered the village of Bento Rodrigues contained highly toxic substances, such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals. As biologists had feared, the poisonous mudslide made of 62 million cubic metres of toxic sludge, has devastated the Rio Doce basin in Minas Gerais, and is going to poison the sea of Espirito Santo.

According to Marcos Freitas, Executive Coordinator of the Instituto Virtual Internacional de Mudanças Globais (IVIG), the tragedy has been caused by Samarco’s negligence. The company is guilty of severe neglectfulness in terms of maintenance and security, and provoked a disaster that is the worst ever caused by a mining company.  The amount of toxic mud released is 2.5 times higher than the second worst incident that took place in the Canadian mine of Mount Polley, British Columbia, on 4 August 2014.

 

Despite the prompt alert, nothing was done to avoid the toxic mudslide to reach the Brazilian coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, one of Brazil’s regions most rich in biodiversity. “Toxic mud into the ocean could have an environmental impact equal to the contamination of a rainforest the size of the Brazilian Pantanal,” said biologist André Ruschi, Head of the Estação Biologia Marinha Augusto Ruschi di Aracruz, Santa Cruz, Espírito Santo.

Ruschi points out that the environmental damages caused by such mud tsunami could take at least 100 years to be completely reabsorbed. “It is a massive disaster with consequences difficult to be assumed”.

 

Among the victims of the disaster, the Krenak Indians are the most affected, an indigenous community living along the shores of the contaminated river, which now have to rely on drinking water and food deliveries. “The river was everything for us, not just water, and fish, but a source of survival and culture,” said chief Leomir Cecilio de Souza. “Since the time of our ancestors, the river maintained our people. It was sacred. But now it is dead”.

The deadly tide, sliding towards the ocean, has left a trail of dead animals, uprooted trees, and a thick layer of solidified mud. So far, Brazil’s government has fined Samarco (owned by mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton) twice: $60 million and $250 million. However, experts estimate that the damages to ecosystem and biodiversity worth many billion dollars.

 

Furthermore, the company, which had more than once denied the mud toxicity, hasn’t still provide a complete list of the substances contained in the mud spilled from the dams. Many now fear that another 200 dams in the country could be at risk.

 

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Children playing on the beach of Povoacao Village, on the coast of Espirito Santo, near the mouth of the Rio Doce © Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

 

Humanitarian and environmental associations request a tightening up of regulations and denounce the close link between politicians and mining companies, which have spent over 7 million dollars in political and advertising campaigns last year.

Translated by

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