Samarco Tailings Dam Disaster, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The tailing dams failure in the iron ore mine in Mariana (Minas Gerais) belonging to the Vale and BHP Billiton companies, caused outrage because of loss of human lives and heavy pollution in the Rio Doce.


The Brazilian governments under Presidents Lula and Rousseff pushed forward an exporting extractivist economy largely based on iron ore exports by the Vale S.A. company (formely Vale de Rio Doce) and also on soybean exports. To the Brazilian policy makers (both in government and in the neoliberal opposition) the tailings dams failure at Samarco's Germano mine (Samarco is owned by Vale and BHP Billiton) in Mariana (not far from Ouro Preto), in Minas Gerais’ iron belt on 5th November 2015 was something of a shock. This is one of the largest iron ore mines in the world. The Rio Doce (the Doce River) was polluted for over 300 km downstream. The burst dam unleashed 40 million cubic meters of mud on the valley killing not less than 30 people and wiping out the village of Bento Rodrigues and reaching very quickly Barra Longa and other villages. About 800 people lost their homes. Many villages downstream were left without drinkable water. The toxicity of the discharges was still under discussion weeks after the event. The Fundão dam and partly the Santarem dam had failed.

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Basic Data
NameSamarco Tailings Dam Disaster, Minas Gerais, Brazil
ProvinceMinas Gerais
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Tailings from mines
Specific CommoditiesIron ore
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 2014, Samarco produced 25 million tons of iron ore in Mariana, and a similar amount of waste. Production increased 9 million tons over previous year, to compensate for lower prices.

Some early reports cited in The Financial Times put the liability for the tailings dams failure at one billion USD.
Project Area (in hectares)30,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population40,000
Start Date05/11/2015
Company Names or State EnterprisesSamarco from Brazil
BHP Billiton (BHP) from Australia
Vale S.A. (Vale) from Brazil
Relevant government actorsGovernor of Minas Gerais

President of Brazil

Ministry of Mines, Brazil
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAtingidos por Barragens

Articulacao Internacional de Atingidos pela Vale

Metabase, workers union in Mariana, Minas Gerais
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Under negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesIron mining was suspended after the tailing dams bursts. It is not certain whether mining will be continued. The issue is now compensation for loss of life and reparations. Whether there will be a criminal case against the companies involved, Vale and BHP Billiton, is yet not known.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.After the large spillage of tailings on 5th November 2015 from the failed dams there is negotiation on the compensation and there might be criminal lawsuit. This is a matter that will presumably last for years.
Sources and Materials

Report by Atingidos pela Vale
[click to view]

Report on liabilities in the Financial Times
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Reuters: Vale mineworkers' fears
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BBC on Mariana's tailing dam's disaster
[click to view]


Report on the actions against pollution of the Rio Doce by the Krenak indigenous people
[click to view]

In the Folha de Sao Paulo, two weeks after the dam failure. Indigenous people's complaints.
[click to view]

Report in Estado de Sao Paulo on iron ore production and waste production by Samarco in 2014
[click to view]

Brasil de Fato
[click to view]

MAB - Audiência da Assembleia Legislativa discute impactos da Samarco
[click to view]

MAB - MAB cobra comprometimento do MDA na reconstrução da Bacia do Rio Doce
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El Pais: Lama de barragem da Samarco chega ao mar
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Media Links

Report by MAB
[click to view]

Other Documents

Sanmarco tailings disaster Source:
[click to view]
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorJoan Martinez Alier
Last update24/11/2015