Brazil Police Say BHP, Vale At Fault for Dam Disaster – by Paul Kiernan (Wall Street Journal – June 9, 2016)

Federal investigation says executives put production ahead of safety, which led to destruction of mining village and 19 deaths

RIO DE JANEIRO—A catastrophic dam failure that killed 19 people and polluted hundreds of miles of rivers in Brazil last year was the result of a mining company’s repeated decision to prioritize production over safety, Brazil’s Federal Police said Thursday.

Top executives at Samarco Mineração, the joint venture between global mining giants Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd., for years were aware of cracks and drainage problems at the so-called Fundão tailings dam that collapsed Nov. 5, the police said.

“Don’t call it an accident,” Roger Lima de Moura, head of the Federal Police task force that investigated the disaster, said in an interview. The companies were “more than negligent,” he said.

The risk was so high that company officials discussed purchasing and relocating the village of Bento Rodrigues, which was wiped out by a tsunami of mine waste after the dam broke, the authorities said. But rather than taking precautionary measures like halting production to reinforce Fundão, the company cut spending and proceeded with a plan to increase output by 37%, the Federal Police added.

Brazil’s Federal Police presented on Thursday the results of a seven-month investigation that included phone calls and text messages between Samarco executives, expert analysis and witness testimony.

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