The government of Brazil is suing for $5.2 billion two multinational mining companies connected to the collapse of a dam in the state of Minas Gerais that killed 13 people and displaced hundreds, while destroying homes, devastating river ecosystems and polluting part of the Atlantic Ocean with mud and wastewater containing toxic levels of mercury, arsenic and other metals.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, said the equivalent of “20,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic mud” spewed into the Doce River earlier this month.

The companies are Australia-based BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner, and Vale, the biggest iron ore specialist.

The Guardian reports:

Environment minister Izabella Teixeira said a lawsuit would be filed demanding that the companies and the mine operator Samarco, which they co-own, create a fund of 20 billion reais to pay for environmental recovery and compensation for victims. […]

“It is not a natural disaster. It is a disaster prompted by economic activity, but of a magnitude equivalent to those disasters created by forces of nature.” […]

The deluge swept down the river Doce to the Atlantic, sparking claims of major contamination, although the mining companies insist there is no serious pollution. […]

Earlier on Friday Vale announced a compensation fund, but did not give figures. Executives also sounded a defiant note, rejecting allegations that the Doce had been badly polluted.

The United Nations has contradicted the mine operator’s claims that the contamination is not serious. Reuters reports:

Citing “new evidence”, the UN’s office of the high commissioner for human rights said in a statement the residue “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals”. […]

Biologists have been shocked by the impact of the burst dam, which Brazil’s government has called the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster. […]

The UN statement criticized the response of the companies and the Brazilian government as “insufficient,” saying: “The government and companies should be doing everything within their power to prevent further harm.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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