US Rock Band Helps Dam Disaster Victims
US rock group Pearl Jam performed in an outdoor concert in Brazil and made a surprising announcement during the show. The group’s singer, Eddie Vedder, interrupted a show Friday night in Belo Horizonte and announced that his band would be donating the proceeds from the concert to victims of the dam spill that killed 16 people.
Belo Horizonte is the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, where the disaster occurred on November 5. Along with promising the concert’s earnings to be sent to the victims of the dam breach, Eddie Vedder also called for the mining company, Samarco, to be severely punished.
As seen on a video on the news website G1, the band got a standing ovation when Vedder said the profits from that concert would go to victims of the disaster. The breach occurred when a dam collapsed at the waste reservoirs of an iron ore mine, unleashing a torrent of yellowish muck that all but buried a village, left 280,000 people without water, and smothered thousands of fish, turtles, and other animals.
Besides the 16 dead, another 8 people remain missing and more than 500 people are homeless. The mining facility is owned by Samarco, a joint venture between the mining giants BHP of Australia and Vale of Brazil.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira says it was the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, and that it will take 30 years to clean the basin of the Doce River, into which the sludge flowed. Samarco has already been hit with damages, fines, and frozen funds totaling more than US$400 million (R$1.7 billion) from federal and state governments.
Because of the size and nature of the mud tsunami, after moving through the Bento Rodrigues region where the dam broke, the mud has continued to travel downstream and was unstoppable. On Sunday, November 22, news agencies reported that the wave of toxic mud had reached the Atlantic Ocean. The BBC and other news agencies sent news helicopters to the area, and footage of the mud flowing into the ocean was posted on the Internet.
Environmentalists are worried the orange sludge could cause severe pollution. Barriers have been put up to try to protect plants and animals from the mud. The mining waste has travelled more than 310 miles (500 km) from the dam site to the ocean since the dam at the iron mine collapsed. The mining company Samarco has insisted the sludge is harmless and not toxic.
Brazilian authorities have declared a state of emergency in more than 200 towns affected by the spill. Researchers predict the spill could extend some 6 miles (9 km) into the ocean.
On Friday, December 19, Judge Marcelo Aguiar Machado in Minas Gerais froze the Brazilian assets of mining giants BHP Billiton and Vale SA after determining their joint venture Samarco was unable to pay for damages caused by the burst dam at its mine last month. The judge ruled that Vale and BHP could be held responsible for the disaster at the iron ore mine in Bento Rodrigues, for which the government is demanding nearly $5 billion (20 billion reais) in damages. Lawyers for Vale and BHP claim they are not liable for the damages because the management of the mine was the responsibility of Samarco.
The judge issued the ruling in response to a suit filed by Brazil’s federal government and the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, which were hardest hit by the massive deluge of water and mining waste that killed 16 on November 5. The suit filed against Anglo Australian BHP Billiton, Rio de Janeiro-based Vale and their joint venture Samarco, the operator of the iron-ore complex in Minas Gerais where the accident occurred, was aimed at guaranteeing that sufficient funds would be set aside to cover the potential social, environmental, and economic damages.
The judge gave the companies 45 days to present a comprehensive socio-environmental recovery plan for the Doce River Basin and the entire degraded area and a one-month deadline for submitting a socioeconomic revitalization plan for populations affected by the disaster. Courts in Brazil had already blocked 592 million reais ($152 million) of Samarco’s funds in recent weeks to guarantee the company meets its future obligations to the victims of the accident.
In late November, two United Nations independent experts on the environment and toxic waste called on Brazil’s government, Vale, and BHP to “take immediate action to protect the environment and health of communities at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.” BHP, however, disputed those findings, saying that the tailings that entered the Rio Doce were “comprised of clay and silt material from the washing and processing of earth containing iron ore, which is naturally abundant in the region.” It said the tailings were “chemically stable” and would “behave in the environment like normal soils in the catchment.”