Samarco sensors gave warnings well before Brazil damburst: Globo – by Jeb Blount and Brad Haynes (Reuters U.S. – January 25, 2016)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian iron ore miner Samarco Mineração SA received serious danger warnings from ground sensors in 2014 and 2015, before a deadly dam burst last November that caused widespread environmental destruction, Globo TV’s Fantastico news magazine said on Sunday.

The alerts, from probes driven deep into the dam’s structure to detect ground moisture and stability, reached as high as “emergency” levels, Fantastico said, citing Samarco-commissioned engineering studies provided to prosecutors investigating the case. The damburst is considered by many to be the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.

Samarco, a 50-50 joint venture between Brazil’s Vale SA and Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd, is in talks with Brazilian federal and state prosecutors and environmental agencies to settle a 20 billion real ($5 billion) public lawsuit.

Fantastico said the studies did not include sensor data from areas critical to the integrity of recent enlargements to the dam, a sign of scant regard for the sensor data, according to a prosecutor interviewed by the television program.

“It is an extremely grave omission that compromised the operational security of the dam,” said Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto, who is investigating the accident for Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. The dam’s enlargement, he added, “compromised it in a way that was decisive to its rupture”.

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