Employees re-arrested after fatal Brazil dam collapse

Article by Amanda Jasi

ACCORDING to Reuters, last week a Brazilian court ordered the arrest of 11 Vale employees and two contractors from safety inspector TÜV SÜD. These workers had  assessed the safety of a dam which collapsed in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil on 25 January.

Since the collapse of Dam 1 of the Córrego do Feijão mine 209 people have been confirmed dead and 97 people are missing.

The employees whose arrests have been ordered were previously arrested, but subsequently released. After the collapse, three Vale employees and two engineers from TÜV SÜD were arrested before being released by a court ruling on 5 February, says Reuters. On 15 February, eight Vale employees were arrested before a judge ordered their release on 27 February.

Vale said the latest arrests are “unnecessary” because the employees and contractors have already “given depositions to authorities”, says Reuters.

All the employees ordered arrested have been suspended from their jobs. The removal and relocation of Vale employees was reported previously.

Restricted Vale operations

On 15 March a court decided that among other measures, Vale is to stop any activity at its Doutor dam, as well as other structures of the Timbopeba mine in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais Brazil. This will impact the 12.8m t/y of iron ore that the mine produces.

Vale says that this decision comes despite the Doutor dam having its declaration of stability in force. In addition, the company says that the mine was inspected on 14 March by Brazil’s National Mining Agency (ANM) which verified that the dam “does not present any relevant irregularity or any condition that compromises the safety of the dam”. And according to Vale the ANM states that there is currently no reason to prevent activity or enforce alert/emergency levels that would require evacuation of the local population.

The daily penalty for continued activity at the above-mentioned structures is R$500,000 (US$132,429). Vale has already said that it “has immediately complied with the decision and will adopt the appropriate measures”.

According to data compiled by Reuters, Vale is expected to produce 82.8m t, or 21%, less iron ore this year than was previously planned. This is due to the various restrictions on the company’s Brazil operations, including the accelerated decommissioning of all of its upstream dams. Bloomberg reports that Vale intends to offset some of its production losses using operations elsewhere.

The estimate above was made before Vale announced that a court decision authorised the resumption of activity at its Laranjeiras tailings dam and Brucutu mine. Operations at Brucutu will remain suspended awaiting a decision to comply by the Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMAD).

And yesterday Vale announced that it would be suspending operations at its Alegria mine in Minas Gerais, which will impact approximately 10m t/y of iron ore production. The suspension is a preventive measure, and Vale says that the mine is stable. However, preliminary analysis was unable to guarantee stability under stress conditions. Operations will resume once it has been assured that the mine’s structures are stable.   

More Vale updates

A court has ordered the freezing of R$1bn of Vale funds, which will be used to compensate a local community in Nova Lima, near Dam B3/B4 of the Mar Azul mine, which was previously evacuated. The court also requires that Vale pays for the shelter, lodging, maintenance and feeding of the removed people, in addition to other measures.

Vale has started to pay compensations that were defined in a preliminary agreement signed with Brazilian authorities. Residents of Brumadinho or those who resided within a defined distance of the Paraopeba riverbed on the day of the collapse are entitled. In the first stage Vale will pay residents of two communities most affected by the collapse of Dam 1.

Recently, Vale formally contributed R$20m to the Fire Service of Minas Gerais which assisted in the rescue and care of people affected by the dam collapse. Vale says the money will be used to buy equipment, improve infrastructure and training, and to construct buildings to aid the fire training academy.

Vale recently changed the composition of its Extraordinary Independent Consulting Committee for Dam Safety (CIAESB) which was announced in February. Previously, Vale announced the establishment of committees for investigation and support and recovery. The composition of the Extraordinary Independent Consulting Committee for Investigation (CIAEA) was also changed.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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