SUFB 058: Brazil Dam Collapses Releasing Toxic Mud From Mine’s Tailings Pond

Speak Up For Blue Podcast

Two weeks ago in eastern Brazil a dam at an iron ore mine collapsed, sending toxic mud barreling through estuaries and waterways into the Rio Doce. Twelve people have been confirmed dead, and as of Monday another eleven are still missing. 250,000 people in the area are without clean drinking water, and officials expect over five miles of the Rio Doce’s coast will be hit by this plume of waste and mud. This body of water hosts a nature reserve and a nesting site for the endangered leatherback turtle.

In situations like these, our foremost concern is for the safety of those in Espirito Santo. Andrew and I send our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by this tragedy; those who lost loved ones, who are injured, without a home, or without water.

Over the last couple of weeks, a lot of information has come out on the potential cause of the dam failure and what will be done to hold those accountable, specifically BHP Billiton. Yet perhaps the most frustrating piece of this story is its familiarity. Our oceans and our coastal areas have been subject time and again to environmental and economic disasters that can be traced back to extractive industries like oil and gas. Now while the large majority of those in the industry represent it well and abide by all regulations, the ecological and economic impact of those who don’t is so disproportionate that one company’s failure to properly ensure the safety of its employees and stakeholders can result in a state-wide disaster.

The story goes on to eerily resemble the BP oil spill. BHP Billiton apparently was made aware of design flaws in its dam but failed to adequately address these concerns. They will likely be fined close to $1 billion, though in 2015 they had a net income of $4.1 billion. Estimates for environmental clean up range from $1 billion to $27 billion, though the amount BHP will most likely be expected to pay will probably be on the lower end. Quite frankly, stories like these are frustrating and disheartening to write about. It doesn’t seem like we’ve learned anything in the past ten years about the importance of corporate accountability. And until we start really holding these companies accountable, we can’t expect any drastic change in the way they do business and manage risk to occur.

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