Brazil dam disaster sparks fears in areas with similar structures

Latin America

The recent dam disaster in Brazil devastated a community. It also prompted the government to promise inspections and safety measures across the country.

Even so, there’s a growing sense of fear for those living close to similar mining dams.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral visited another city, where a dam also collapsed just a few years ago.

The colonial city of Congonhas, in Minas Gerais, is home to some of Brazil’s best examples of 18th century baroque art and architecture. The city attracts scores of visitors. However, people there live with a constant threat: a massive dam owned by mining and steel-making company CSN.

CSN’s Casa de Pedra Dam holds about 50 million cubic meters of mining waste. That’s around four times more than Vale’s Corrego do Feijao dam that burst in Brumadinho last week. The potential for damage and loss of life there is much bigger, because the dam sits right above densely populated areas.

In 2017, CSN had to fix leaks in the dam, following a demand by the city’s district attorney. The district attorney has said the company is now complying with safety standards.

There are about 3,000 people who live in the neighborhood right underneath the dam. They’ve been complaining for years about the risks, and are especially scared.

The city’s mayor, Zelinho de Freitas, has agreed that there’s reason for concern. However, the mayor’s said that after the Brumadinho disaster, he heard a commitment by CSN to dismantle the dam. The mining company declined to comment.

“I think this is the biggest mining dam inside an urban area in the world. I don’t know of any other,” the mayor said. “It’s utterly absurd that the state government licensed the construction of this dam 15 years ago.”

Minas Gerais authorities have suspended all licensing related to the enlargement or construction of mining dams while new federal safety regulations are reviewed.

Congonhas was built on the riches of gold mining in the state of Minas Gerais centuries ago. Now it’s the iron ore that plays an important part in the city’s economy. However, the fear for those living there is that mining could destroy it.