BRASILIA, Brazil, Nov. 18 (UPI) ─ Two dams in Brazil that are holding waste water from iron mines are at risk of collapsing, a company spokesman disclosed this week.
The dam holding the Samarco Mineração company’s Fundao reservoir in the state of Minas Gerais burst on Nov. 5, killing at least 11 people with 12 others missing and presumed dead. The Germano and Santarem dams are now also at risk of collapsing, according to Kleber Terra, Samarco’s infrastructure director.
Emergency work to prevent another dam collapse will begin immediately and will last up to 90 days. More than 500 people lost their homes after the Fundao breach and the entire village of Bento Rodrigues was destroyed.
Brazilian environmental agency Ibama described the Nov. 5 dam breach as “the worst mining accident in Brazil’s history” and fined Samarco $66 million.
Samarco, founded in 1977 owned by the Brazilian mining giant Vale and the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton, reached an agreement to pay the Brazilian government a total of about $260 million, although prosecutors said the amount was small.
State Prosecutor Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto told the O Estado de Minas newspaper that Samarco’s $66 million payment is a “first installment” used to cover the initial clean-up of the environmental disaster and to pay some compensation to victims and families.
About 250,000 people lost access to drinking water due to the dam collapse.
Greenpeace International has demanded a thorough investigation and condemned the dam breach, which caused mud full of metals such as manganese and mercury to spread through the nearby Mariana mining community.
“Thousands of lives are being radically affected — fishermen, ranchers, city-dwellers and the Krenak Indigenous people,” Greenpeace said in a statement. “The environment between Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo states suffers immeasurably. There is no time to lose in supporting the victims, investigating and punishing those responsible for this tragedy and in minimizing the effects on the environment.”