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Brazil to institute legal action against BHP Billiton/Vale for Samarco tailings dam failure

International – Mining giant BHP Billiton said that it had not yet received notification of legal action after the Brazilian Federal Government and certain State governments, had announced on Monday that they intend to commence legal proceedings against Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton for clean-up costs and damages following the Samarco tailings dam failure on 5 November.

The announcement indicates that the legal action will demand that the companies establish a fund worth US$5.2 billion for environmental recovery and compensation.

Samarco says that, to date, there are 13 fatalities and six people who remain missing.

While operations at Samarco remain suspended, clean-up work has commenced in the Barra Longa area, focusing on access roads, housing and bridge repairs.

Monitoring of the remaining dam structures at Samarco also continues, while interim work to repair the damage to the dams and to reinforce parts of the structure has also commenced.

BHP Billiton said in a statement that Samarco and local authorities continue to assess and monitor water quality in the Rio Doce river system. Where water supplies have been affected, alternative water supplies are being provided by Samarco, working with local authorities.

It reports that tests on the sediments carried out by the Brazilian Geological Service (CPRM) from samples taken at four points in the Rio Doce river system over the period 14 November to 18 November 2015 indicate that concentrations of metals obtained at these sites do not significantly differ from the results produced by CPRM in 2010.

Samarco further reports that analysis by SGS Geosol, a company specialising in environmental geochemistry, has confirmed that the tailings are composed of materials that are not hazardous to human health, based on the hazard classification of the material under Brazilian standards.

Samarco has advised that the tailings material released as a result of the breach of the Fundão and Santarém dams is considered to be non-reactive and would be geochemically stable when introduced to the river system or ocean. As a result of the high volume of sand and clay tailings material that moved through the river system, a large number of fish died due to reduced oxygen uptake. Assessment of these impacts is ongoing.

BHP Billiton has confirmed its commitment to supporting Samarco to rebuild the community and restore the environment affected by the breach of the dams. This includes plans, announced by Vale and BHP Billiton to work together with Samarco to establish a voluntary, non-profit fund to support the recovery of the Rio Doce river system.

The Board of BHP Billiton has also established a separate sub-committee to assist in overseeing the governance of BHP Billiton’s management and response to the events at Samarco.

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Chantelle Kotze
Chantelle Kotze is a Johannesburg-based media professional. She is a contributor at Mining Review Africa (Clarion Events - Africa) and has created content for the media brand over the past 6 years.