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The Samarco Dam Collapse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1325 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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The Biggest Brazilian Environmental Disaster


When a natural catastrophe happens, it always catches the attention of people around the world. Therefore, this research was the place where information was collected about the greatest environmental disaster that occurred in the history of Brazil, which affected the lives of many Brazilians. This report aims to show the damage caused to the population and the environment, besides the neglect of these large companies with the population


This report is constituted of research and collection of information of news, and informative reports about the biggest environmental disaster in the history of Brazil.

The Disaster

On November 5, 2015, the greatest environmental disaster occurred in the history of Brazil. This tragedy occurred at the small historic town of Mariana in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais. The Fundão dam, which was the responsibility of the mining company Samarco, failed, causing the leakage of approximately 62 million cubic meters of mud from the tailings, a huge tsunami In total 19 people died, hundreds of buildings were destroyed and left families homeless. The largest volume leakage of material dumped by dams of mining rejects of all time, also caused the pollution of the Doce river and environmental damage that extended to the states of Espírito Santo And Bahia. (O Globo,2016)

The village that was destroyed by the mine collapse

The village of Bento Rodrigues, destroyed by the mine collapse (Photo: Senado Federal, via flickr)

(The Argentina Independent,2016)

The mudslide tsunami reached 39 cities in three Brazilian states. As a result of this disaster more than 11 tons of fish were killed. The fauna and flora in the Rio Doce Basin became even more vulnerable. Ecosystem and species already threatened by predatory activities, impacts from industry, agriculture and mining are now at risk of extinction.(O Globo, 2016)

The Results

Samarco is controlled by Vale and the Australian company BHP Billiton, which accounts for 2% of the world production of pellets (steel balls used in steel production), is also one of the largest exporters in Brazil. (News.com.au, 2016)

The Fundão dam used the hydraulic landfill system. The preliminary reports showed that the main hypothesis for the accident, according to experts, is that a liquefaction (process has occurred, rather than Ejecting, retaining water), leading to the transformation of the sand into mud and a sudden variation in the internal pressure of the tailings deposit, making it unable to contain the waste. Shortly before the accident, the University of São Paulo’s Seismology Center (USP) recorded four small earthquakes. (O Globo, 2016)

Almost a year after the disaster, a re-issue was announced with the possible causes of the breach of the reservoir, BHP commercial director Dean Dalla Valle said there is no evidence that anyone had put production ahead of safety or reason to believe that someone from BHP had indicated that the dam was in danger.

“The purpose is to determine the cause of the failure and not blame,” (News.com.au, 2016) said Dalla Valle, denying that BHP or Vale had information about the prospects for a disaster.

“You’re not hiding any of it – it’s there for all to see.” (News.com.au, 2016)

In the report, it was found that the rupture of the dam was caused by structural defects that prevented drainage. Despite the results, Samarco denies irregularities. It is clear that despite the results presented the company remains concerned about its own profits rather than being worried about predicting future disasters.

According to The Argentina Independent, the 76 pages of the report showed that the dam rupture was caused by problems in the drainage project. Furthermore a small earthquake on the day the dam also could have “accelerated” the failure, according to the report. Besides that a separate police investigation also accused mining company Samarco of intentional misconduct, claiming the company ignored signs that a dam was at risk of collapse.

Samarco has already been fined 250m reals (£64m) by Ibama (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) and 112m reals (£28m) by Semad (Minas Gerais state government’s environment agency). (News.com.au, 2016)


Even the disaster had occurred in the Rio Doce basin affecting a small part of a country as big as Brazil the disaster is far from over for the people living in those places. Douglas Krenak explains: “Those affected continue to suffer, public health is precarious, The social system is precarious, it’s going down, this tragedy is creating problems now and it will create more in the future”( The Argentina Independent, 2016).

Although this story is far from over, what is expected to be responsible for the damage to the population and the environment. So that in the future the companies will invest more in the development of new technologies in their works foreseeing a greater security so that disasters like this one never happen again


  1. The Guardian (2016, October15) Samarco dam collapse: one year on from Brazil’s worst environmental disaster Retrived February 27,2016, from:https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/15/samarco-dam-collapse-brazil-worst-environmental-disaster-bhp-billiton-vale-mining
  1. O Globo(2016, November 11) Maior desastre ambiental do Brasil, Tragédia de Mariana deixou 19 mortos Retrived February 27,2016, from:http://acervo.oglobo.globo.com/em-destaque/maior-desastre-ambiental-do-brasil-tragedia-de-mariana-deixou-19-mortos-20208009
  1. The Argentina Independent(2016, april 7) The Forgotten Tragedy: Revisiting Brazil’s ‘Worst Ever’ Retrived February 28,2016, from:http://www.argentinaindependent.com/currentaffairs/analysis/revisiting-brazils-worst-ever-environmental-disaster/
  1. Insurance Journal(2016, august 30) Brazil Mine Disaster Caused by Poor Drainage & Design of Tailings Dam: Report Retrived February 28,2016, from:http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2016/08/30/424781.htm
  2. News.com.au(2016, september 1) BHP on fatal Brazil dam burst report: ‘We’re not hiding any of it’ Retrived February 29,2016, from:http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/bhp-on-fatal-brazil-dam-burst-report-were-not-hiding-any-of-it/news-story/562524fb559f21f4180b171da7009098


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