Brazil dam collapse: Toxic mine waste poisons river and threatens crops

World Today

BRAZIL Brumadinho DAM COLLAPSE DEAD FISHA dead fish on the banks of the Paraopeba River in Brumadinho, Brazil. (CGTN/Paulo Cabral)

Police in Brazil have arrested five executives and engineers over the deadly dam collapse in Brumadinho. At least 65 people are confirmed dead and almost 300 missing.

And as CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports, residents are also dealing with a toxic after-math.

Homes in the Indian village of Pataxo Ha-Ha-Hae, along the Paraopeba River in Brumadinho, were not hit by mud when a dam collapsed at a Brazilian iron ore mine last Friday. But it did hit their livelihood.

The river’s water is used for fishing, drinking, washing and watering crops. It’s now off limits, turned red and toxic by iron rich mining waste.

A putrid smell pervades the air on the river banks, created by the fish which have dying since the Córrego do Feijão Dam burst 26 kilometers up river, sending 12 million cubic meters of mining waste downstream.

riverParaopeba River Brumadinho Brazil Mine Waste

An aeriral view of the Paraopeba River in Brumadinho, Brazil, turned brown my toxic mine waste. (CGTN/Paulo Cabral)

Villagers rely on the corn and manioc grown here, which is now threatened.

“Without watering them our crops will die,” one resident said. “It’s certain.”

On Tuesday, federal and state authorities met with village leaders; food, water and medical assistance will be brought in. But the village chief said he’s concerned about long-term survival.

“Now that this story is attracting attention we are being taken care of, but we don’t know what will happen when people begin to forget about it,” Cacique Hayo explained. “We pray to God that those who were responsible for this evil deed are punished.”

Villagers Pataxo Ha-Ha-Hae Brazil Dam Collapse

Villagers in Pataxo Ha-Ha-Hae inspect the banks of the the Paraopeba River in Brumadinho, Brazil. (CGTN/Paulo Cabral)

Brazilian environmental officials are doing what they can.

“We have been rescuing affected fauna, and we also know about the dead fish,” according to Fernanda Cunha, General-Coordinator for Environmental Emergencies at IBAMA. “We’ve already ordered the mining company Vale to collect the fish and dispose of them properly. For now, the priority is to deal with the emergency assistance, but I believe it will take a long time for the environmental impact of this disaster to be solved.”

The search and rescue operations and emergency assistance are still the main focus in Brumadinho. As time passes, however, there will be more questions about the social and environmental impact of the disaster.