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Vale company’s tailings dam failure in Brumadinho, MG, Brazil


As the Articulacao Internacional dos Antingidos e Atingidas pela Vale put it it on 25 January 2019,

"Na tarde de hoje (25/01/2019), duas barragens localizadas na comunidade Córrego do Feijão, em Brumadinho, região metropolitana de Belo Horizonte (MG), romperam. Ainda não temos informações sobre o número de vítimas, mas, segundo os bombeiros, cerca de 200 pessoas estão desaparecidas. A dimensão completa deste desastre ainda não pode ser precisada."[8]. On Jan. 31, Carta Capital wrote:

"Os 358 assassinados são vítimas de uma justiça seletiva que até agora não prendeu os executivos da Vale e que já haviam matado em Mariana. E os assassinatos foram cometidos com requintes de crueldade. Mataram sem dar chance de defesa, e por asfixia, enterraram vivas as pessoas na lama. Pense o seguinte, os executivos da Vale por suas ações e omissões, por ausência de fiscalização adequada, enterraram vivas 358 pessoas. Pense que você, por sua ação ou omissão, por ausência de fiscalização adequada, permite que uma barragem de rejeitos tóxicos de sua empresa rompa e mate 358 pessoas. ".

In this foretold tragedy of the failure of the Vale company’s tailings dam on 25 January 2019 in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, it appears that there were over 350 people killed, most of them employees of the company who were working or having lunch in buildings downstream of the tottering dam. Vale killed its own people. The amount of tailings released was smaller than in the Samarco tragedy (in Mariana, MG, in 2015) but the number of people directly killed has been larger.

It was indeed criminally irresponsible to have Vale employees working and eating daily downstream of the tailings dam. There had been numerous calls by civil society groups including MAB to definitively stop the Còrrego do Feijão mine, not to give any more concessions in the area, and to secure the dam against failure. Such calls were dismissed by the state administration, by the Vale company (which learnt nothing from the Samarco tragedy of 2015).

The Corrego do Feijao mine is one of four in Vale's Paraopeba complex, which includes two processing plants. The complex produced 26 million tonnes of iron ore in 2017, or about 7 per cent of Vale's output, with Corrego do Feijao accounting for 7.8 million tonnes, according to the company's website.

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartman [1] said he did not know what caused the collapse. About 300 employees were working when it happened.

"The principal victims were our own workers," Mr Schartzman told a news conference on Friday 25 January evening. He said a restaurant was buried by the mud at lunchtime. Another dam administered by Vale and Australian mining company BHP Billiton collapsed in 2015 in the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state, resulting in 19 deaths and forcing hundreds from their homes. Mr Schvartsman nonchalantly said what happened in Brumadinho was "a human tragedy much larger than the tragedy of Mariana, but probably the environmental damage will be less."[1].

Among those missing were over many workers who were having lunch in an administrative area when it was hit by a torrent of sludge and water, said a fire brigade spokesman, Lt Pedro Aihara. According to The Guardian [2], “Our main worry now is to quickly find out where the missing people are,” Aihara said on GloboNews cable television channel. He later told TV Record that an upscale guesthouse called Pousada Nova Estância had been completely swept away along with 38 staff and guests.

The owner of the Pousada Nova Estancia and his family were killed. He was Marcio Mascarenhas who (as it became known) has posted a strong complaint against the mine in facebook one year before [19]-

According to Clara Paiva Izidoro, a spokeperson for the local movement Águas de Casa Branca, a district of Brumadinho, the residents were aware of the risk. She said: "já havia entre os moradores um temor de que um desastre dessa natureza ocorresse. Nós vamos ter um impacto imenso. Nós já vínhamos reconhecendo que várias barragens andavam com risco e isso tem relação com abalos sísmicos pequenos que estão acontecendo na região. Isso significa que, se houve um sismo nessa região, que tem muitas barragens, ainda podemos ter outros eventos. Então, esta é uma área de muito risco." [3]. [4]. Her organization complained also against mining in nearby Jangada.

Sources such as Brasil de Fato and the Folha de Sao Paulo have explained how on 11 December 2018 the residents opposed the authorization for further mining in the area granted by the government of Minas Gerais to the companies

Minerações Brasileiras Reunidas S.A. and Vale in the municipalities of Brumadinho e Sarzedo. The IBAMA representative abstained on that occasion, and he mentioned the risk of dam failure. One member voted against [17][18]. The Movimento das Águas de Casa Branca had carried out many actions and complaints against the granting of mining permissions, submitting petitions signed by tens of thousands. They took part in public audiences. They were regularly dismissed by the authorities. One of their arguments was the threat from tailings dams, another was the encroachment of mining on the Paque Estadual of Serra do Rola Moça.

The expansion of Vale's activities in Brumadinho was approved at this meeting on 11 December 2018 through a faster environmental licensing (in a single phase, instead of the usual three regarding the prior license, installation and operation). This was only possible because the Secretary of Environment of Minas Gerais, Germano Luiz Gomes Vieira, signed in December 2017 the "Normative Resolution 217", which changed the risk criteria of some dams, aiming to reduce the environmental licensing stages in the State of Minas Gerais. The dams at Córrego do Feijão had its risk lowered from 6 (highest risk) to 4 (lower risk) [10,12]. Despite the Samarco tragedy in 2015, environmentalists argue that environmental licensing in Minas Gerais has been carried out very quickly and always favorable to mining companies [12]. In September 2018, the Movimento pelas Serras e Águas de Minas denounced a conflict of interest of the Secretary, because his brother, Giovanni Abel Gomes Vieira, is an employee of the Anglo American mining company.

There are other threatening tailing dams in MG, including one in Conceição do Mato Dentro belonging to Anglo American. [5], in Congonhas and in many other places. Researchers and the local population live in fear because of the growth of the tailings dam of Anglo American [5].

A legislative project to make regulation of tailings dams stricter in Minas Gerais after the Samarco (Mariana) disaster of 2015 had been stopped for three years in the legislative assembly, and was unlikely to make further progress under the pro-mining policies on the administration of Belo Horizonte and Brasilia. [7]. The legislative project had been approved in the plenary and sent to the commissions of Administração and Minas and Energia, presided then by deputy João Vitor Xavier (PSDB). A new text was proposed with participation of the public prosecutor (Ministério Público), Ibama, NGOs and residents, providing for public audiences on dams with directly affected residents, and forbidding new tailing dams in inhabited area or areas with water sources. This was supported by 56 thousand signatures but it got nowhere. The legislative text also provided for an insurance fund and forbid the method of increasing tailings dams by "alteamento" (as in the case of Corrego do Feijao, also Conceiçao do Mato, da Anglo American) [5], allowing the dam to go upwards when it is filled. This legislative proposal was vetoed.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Vale company’s tailings dam failure in Brumadinho, MG, Brazil
State or province:Minas Gerais
Location of conflict:Brumadinho
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Iron ore

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This was a tailings dam belonging to the Vale mining company. There is a good detailed description in source [6] and source [9] in Portuguese of the political decision taken by the goverment of Minas Gerais in December 2018 to increase iron ore mining in the area and give a fresh license to this tailings dam. It is not clear yet what has been the volume of the spill., possibly 13 million m3, Vale created the Complexo Minerário de Paraopeba in Brumadinho and Sarzedo. The Complexo contributed 7% of the iron ore exported by Vale from Brazil in 2018. Apart from three tailings dams the Complexo is formed by the mines of Jangada, Córrego do Feijão, and processing plants, administraive buildings.

The new Governor of Minas Gerais, Zema, only assumed the Government of Minas Gerais in January of 2019. But he argues and had argued that it is necessary to simplify the environmental licenses for mining companies. Also, he kept Germano Luiz Gomes Vieira as Secretary of the Environment, who was openly in favour of simplifying mining licenses. [12, 13].

The Vale company has now become a company resposible for directly killing many of its own emplyees in the Brumadinho disaster, on top of all the other disasters it has caused in Brazil and around the world. It is going to be in deep legal and financial trouble. Unlikely to survive in its present form and its present CEO, probably liable on criminal charges. This apart from the financial liabilities.

See the materials produced by the Articulacao dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale. [8]. Communiqué of 25 Jan. 2010: "A Articulação Intencional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale vem denunciando nos últimos anos na assembleia de acionistas da companhia o perigo do reiterado processo de redução de custos e despesas em suas operações, ampliando, assim, os riscos e os incidentes como o ocorrido em Mariana em 2015 e hoje em Brumadinho. Entretanto, nada foi feito. Não se pode dizer que o rompimento das barragens, no dia hoje, não era previsto ou esperado: apesar de alertada, a Vale nada fez a não ser continuar minerando e aumentando seu lucro."[8]

Regarding the liability of Vale, Marta Nogueira (Reuters) reported on Jan 26, 2019, that the new disaster not only will create a new ecological debt, it might also affect Vale's debt for the Samarco case. [10]. The prosecutor running talks to settle a lawsuit over the 2015 tailings dam rupture at the Samarco mine (Mariana, MG) told Reuters that depending on Vale's culpability in the new disaster, it may change how his task force handles a 155 billion reais ($41 billion) case against Samarco Mineracao SA, a Vale joint venture with BHP Group . That case is currently suspended amid negotiations for a potential settlement. "Now an intervening fact has appeared and that may completely change the course of those talks," prosecutor J.A. Sampaio said. "We need to investigate what caused this new rupture, if there were the same causes as the Samarco case: a lack of monitoring, incomplete information, neglect," Sampaio said. Sampaio said state and federal authorities have also failed to apply more stringent regulation to the hundreds of tailings dams around the country. "When it comes to the safety policy for these dams, nothing – absolutely nothing – has changed," Sampaio said. "We're going to see one tragedy after the other."[10].

According to Reuters [14] "when Fabio Schvartsman took the reins of Vale SA in 2017, he suggested a motto for the world’s largest iron miner, turning the page on a tailings dam disaster that hit a small Brazilian town two years before: “Mariana, never again.” That and many of Schvartsman’s other big promises look destined for the scrap heap." Vale faces enormous liabilities. Some pension funds are becoming uneasy, because of its terrible reputation. Because of the liabilities, payment of dividends becomes difficult, even obscene. Without dividends, shareholders will disinvest. [14].


Project area:3,600 (affected by the spill)
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:50,000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Complexo Minerário de Paraopeba from Brazil
Mineraçoes Brasileiras Reunidas from Brazil
Vale (Vale) from Brazil
Relevant government actors:Ibama.
COPAM, Conselho Estadual de Política Ambiental.
Goverment of Minas Gerais.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Águas de Casa Branca (district of Brumadinho).
Fórum Nacional da Sociedade Civil na Gestão de Bacias Hidrográficas (FONASC-CBH).
MAB. Movimento dos atingidos por barragens.
Comitê Nacional em Defesa dos Territórios Frente à Mineração.
Articulação Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Recreational users
Religious groups
Articulação Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale. Also, Iglesias y Minería [15]. Also the CUT [16] and local miners' unions
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Alternative preventive legislative proposals were rejected [7]. Environmental licensing was done too quickly in December 2018.


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsMany employees from Vale have been killed in this accident. In Brumadinho there must have been incidence of respiratory illnesses even before the accident. The mud released might be toxic.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Project temporarily suspended
Remains to be seen. There will be court cases, calls for compensation.
Proposal and development of alternatives:The tailings dam collapsed on 25 January 2019. This was been foretold. Neighbours had alternatives: "no to further iron ore mining and securing the dam". They had put forward these alternative as recently as December 2018, with tens of thousand of signatures. The area had attracted tourists because of its beauty and the Inhotim museum of contemporary art (which fortunately has survived). The owner of Inhotim, a pig-iron magnate, Bernardo Paz, declared some years ago, "I want to create a place where people can come and work without being in a hurry, [where they can] live surrounded by birds, have fun, a place they can bring their lives to," Paz told O Globo newspaper. "It's like Disneyland, which began life as a park and expanded. Only here it is something serious." Deadly serious, one could add.
The damage had been foretold by environmentalists.
[20]. "Não foi acidente, foi crime anunciado! Era previsível, como são previsíveis os rompimentos de dezenas de outras grandes barragens de lama tóxica de mineração em muitos estados do Brasil. Na Ata da reunião do COPAM (Conselho Estadual de Política Ambiental), de 11 de dezembro de 2018, que aprovou a renovação da licença ambiental para a mineradora VALE continuar a exploração de minério no complexo minerário da Jangada e da Mina do Córrego do Feijão, em Brumadinho, região metropolitana de Belo Horizonte, MG, consta os alertas que foram feitos. O prof. Klemens Laschefski, da UFMG, por exemplo, em entrevista a vários meios de comunicação alertou para os riscos de continuar a atividade minerária na área do Córrego do Feijão. Maria Teresa Corujo (Teca), representante do Fórum Nacional da Sociedade Civil nos Comitês de Bacias Hidrográficas (FONASC-CBH) também fez contundentes e fundamentadas críticas à renovação da licença pleiteada pela VALE. Teca foi a única conselheira que votou contra a renovação da licença." [20].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:A great failure for environmental justice. No attention was paid to the attempts to enact stricter legal regulation. Callsl from civil society and environmental movement were not heard. Lessons from the Samarco (Mariana) disaster of 2015 were not drawn. The Vale company in this case has killed many of its own employees. Read "Brumadinho – 25.01.2019 – Nota da Articulação Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale" [8]. On 27 Jan, Sunday, some small demonstrations against Vale took place in the district of Casa Banca. [11].

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[7] News on a stalled law project in the Assembly of Minas Gerais that would have made more difficult for companies to mine iron ore and to dispose of tailings.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Andréa Zhouri. Pesquisadores do Grupo de Estudos em Temáticas Ambientais (GESTA) da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) estudam os conflitos ambientais e processos de territorialização em Minas. Um dos resultados desse trabalho é o Mapa dos Conflitos Ambientais do estado, que completa 10 anos, e reúne mais de 500 registros de processos hegemônicos com apropriação de territórios. O projeto é uma parceria com o Núcleo de Investigação em Justiça Ambiental da Universidade Federal de São João del-Rei (NINJA/UFSJ) e o Núcleo Interdisciplinar de Investigação Socioambiental da Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros (NIISA/UNIMONTES).

[1]. The Telegraph. 25.1.2019. Brazil dam collapse leaves at least seven dead and 200 missing .

[2] The Guardian 25 Jan 2019. Brazil dam collapse: seven bodies found and scores still missing. Burst of tailings dam at iron ore mine releases wave of red sludge, with chance of finding survivors ‘minimal’.

[3] Folha de Sao Paulo (Ranier Bragon).. Risco de rompimento foi citado na tensa reunião que aprovou licença da barragem. Representante do Ibama afirmou que bastaria negligência ou abandono para haver a tragédia

[10] Marta Noguera (Reuters). Exclusive: Brazil prosecutor says Vale dam burst may scramble Samarco talks, Jan 26, 2019.

[12] Secretary Germano Luiz Gomes Vieira reduced the risk criteria in December 2018.

[13] Gov- Zema in favour of simplifying licences for mining companies, as he stated in Nov. 2018. He kept Germano Luiz Gomes Viera as Secretary for the Environment in Minas Gerais.

[14] Enormous liabilities - bleak financial prospects for the Vale Company, according to Reuters. Some pension funds become uneasy. (28 Jan 2019. New dam disaster puts Vale CEO, deals and dividends under scrutiny. Tatiana Bautzer).

[15] igle Choramos com a Mãe Terra lágrimas de

lama e sangue. Não à impunidade. A rede Igrejas e Mineração chora junto às vítimas do crime ambiental de Brumadinho, Minas Gerais (Brasil).

[16] Central única dos Trabalhadores do Brasil. Não foi acidente, foi crime. Executiva da CUT diz que tragédia na barragem de Brumadinho não foi acidente, foi crime. Na nota, a CUT se solidariza com os trabalhadores e seus familiares e diz que vai lutar por justiça.

[19] Marcio Paulo Mascarenhas, Fevr. 2018, em Facebook. "Estão acabando com tudo em volta. Onde antes era uma mata atlântica cheia de nascentes, hoje está virando um deserto empoeirado e sem vida. O que é mais importante, o dinheiro ou, as pessoas que morrem de doenças pulmonares respirando esse pó poluído com minerais pesados e bebendo água misturada com esse mesmo veneno? Lençóis freáticos entupidos. Pulmões entupidos e o turismo ecológico que antes era fonte de riquezaspara a região, se transformando em deserto poeirento e desabitado. Cenário horrendo de um futuro que começou a décadas atrás. Será que ainda há esperança ?!!!"

[20] CPT, alert to damage to river water and to fisheries, because of toxic mud. Role of environmentalists before the accident, trying to stop mining and building of tailings dams in the region. Role of activist Maria Teresa Corujo.

Barragem em Brumadinho: as perguntas que ainda não foram respondidas. João Fellet Da BBC News Brasil em São Paulo . 26 Jan 2019.

O Globo - Em protesto, prédio da Vale é cercado por 233 placas com os nomes dos mortos em Brumadinho

Empresa faz sua assembleia de acionistas nesta quarta-feira

Bruno Rosa


Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[4] Brasil de Fato. Rompimiento das barragens ja era esperado por moradores. 25 Jan. 2019.

[5] Famílias estão apavoradas com aumento de barragem em Conceição do Mato Dentro (MG). Pesquisadores e população alertam para perigo de rompimento da barragem da empresa Anglo American. Brasil de Fato | Marcio Zonta. 9 de Outubro de 2018.

[6] Good description of the absurd political decision to increase mining in the area and give a fresh licence to the tailings dam, on 11 December 2018.

[8] Materials on Brumadinho from the Articulacao Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale.

[9] Brasil de Fato. 11 Dec. 2018. COPAM aprova a ampliação de mineração na Serra do Rola Moça (MG). Empresas podem aumentar exploração em 88%. Mobilização da comunidade não foi considerada. Rafaella Dotta

[11] Small demonstration in Casa Branca district against the Vale company on Sunday 27 January 2019.

[17] Interview, Maria Teresa Corujo, who on 11 Dec 2018 voted in COPAM against extending mining permissions in favor of the Vale company in Còrrego do Feijao.

[18] Xapuri. 28 Jan 2019. Apenas um projeto minerário foi barrado na câmara técnica do Conselho Estadual de Política Ambiental de Minas Gerais (Copam) em 40 reuniões realizadas entre fevereiro de 2017 e janeiro de 2019, revelou Maria Teresa Corujo, representante do Fórum Nacional de Comitês de Bacias Hidrográficas (Fonasc), em entrevista à Agência Pública.

‘Beira a insanidade’, alertou entidade sobre ampliação da mineração em Brumadinho. Caio de Freitas Paes, Tatiana Dias. 25 de Jan. 2019

Video. "Brumadinho não foi acidente. Foi crime!" Media Ninja.

A 7 minutes video of the disaster.

BBC, 26 Jan 2015. Perhaps 300 killed, disappeared.

The family owning the Pousada Nova Estancia and the language teaching network Number One died in the spill from the tailings dam, together with guests and employees (38 people).

Milton Nascimento: it is not an accident, it is a crime.,1024879/milton-nascimento-e-criolo-fazem-protesto-no-mineirao-por-vitimas-de-b.shtml

Videos shown after one week of the spill, with the precise moment in which the tailings dam breaks down, and the first minutes with the mud travelling downhill at 70 km/hour.

Video-mostra-momento-exato-do-rompimento-da-barragem-da-vale-em-brumadinho, 25 Jan, 2019

Other comments:Brasil de Fato, 11 Dec. 2018. O Conselho Estadual de Política Ambiental aprovou, nesta terça (feira), a ampliação de duas minas em Brumadinho e Sarzedo, na Região Metropolitana de Belo Horizonte. As autorizações enfrentavam forte resistência dos moradores de Casa Branca. As minas se localizam na zona de amortecimento do Parque Estadual da Serra do Rola Moça. A empresa Minerações Brasileiras Reunidas S.A. irá assumir uma lavra a céu aberto para explorar minério de ferro, a Mina da Jangada. Esse projeto visa construir também uma estrada dentro da unidade de conservação. Já a Vale dará continuidade às operações na Mina de Córrego do Feijão, também uma lavra a céu aberto de minério de ferro. Foram autorizadas, em uma mesma reunião, as Licenças Prévia, de Instalação e de Operação.

Meta information

Last update01/05/2019
Conflict ID:4006



Tragédia em Brumadinho: o caminho da lama. Por G1



Source: Pilar Olivares, Reuters

The CEO of the Vale company

Source: Corpo de Bombeiros, Minas Gerais


Articulaçao Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale


A small demonstration some weeks before the disaster in Corrego do Feijao


On a wall in Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil, January 2019

Source: [17] and [18], interviews with Maria Teresa Corujo


ato simbólico a sede da Vale no Rio de Janeiro

29th April 2019 - foto: Articulação Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale/Facebook a la entrada de la sede da Vale,1050145/manifestantes-fazem-memorial-pelas-vitimas-da-tragedia-em-brumadinho-n.shtml