LONDON (Reuters) – Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP is facing a landmark, $5.0 billion damages claim in England for being “woefully negligent” in the run-up to a 2015 dam failure that led to Brazil’s worst environmental disaster, a lawsuit alleges.
The claim, which will be largest group action to be heard in England, was served on the miner on Tuesday on behalf of 235,000 Brazilian individuals and organizations, including municipal governments, utility companies, indigenous tribes and the Catholic Church, according to law firm SPG Law.
BHP spokesman Neil Burrows said the miner intended to defend itself against the proceedings, brought in the north western English city of Liverpool.
The collapse of the Fundao tailings dam, which stored mining waste and is owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale, killed 19 and spilled about 40 million cubic meters of toxic sludge into communities, the Rio Doce river and Atlantic Ocean 650 km away.
Claimants allege BHP, the world’s largest mining company by market value, was aware of rising safety concerns, failed to act on repeated warnings from independent safety experts, increased industrial output of iron ore despite safety concerns and placed the pursuit of profit over human and environmental risk.