In November 2015, Brazil experienced a deadly dam collapse at the Samarco mine in Mariana. Nothing was done. Three-and-a-half years later, after another deadly dam collapse, questions remain around regulations for the mining industry
A month after a tailings dam collapsed and killed 19 people in the Brazilian town of Mariana in November, 2015, the legislature in the state of Minas Gerais gathered to consider new mining legislation.
Congress members meeting 100 kilometres from the site of the disaster at the Samarco mine voted to reduce the role given to the Ministerio Publico, a government agency that typically advocates for environmental, Indigenous and public-safety considerations, in approving new mining projects.
Of the 77 members in the state congress that passed the measure, 59 had received significant campaign contributions from the mining industry.
Three-and-a-half years later, a second dam has collapsed, in the town of Brumadinho – the same kind of dam, owned by the same company, at another iron ore mine just 140 kilometres away. This time, 84 people are confirmed dead, and nearly 300 are missing, and now, four days later, presumed dead.
“Brazil learned nothing from Mariana,” said Cristina Serra, a Brazilian journalist and author of The Tragedy at Mariana, an investigation into the first dam collapse.
“The company didn’t do what they should have done: There were giant quantities of risky material that they needed to monitor with the greatest rigour, and it’s obvious that wasn’t happening. And then the public oversight didn’t happen in the way it should have. … Then nobody was punished, there was total impunity. And that’s why three years later, we have all these deaths.”
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