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Charges filed following Samarco dam tragedy

Fundao dam

Official prosecutors in Brazil have filed a series of charges following the Samarco dam tragedy, ranging from alleged homicide to environmental damage.

The Fundão tailings dam at the iron ore mine of Samarco Mineração failed on 5 November last year. The disaster destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues and killed 19 people.

A total of 26 people and companies have been charged, including charges against current and former employees of the mining company and its parent companies. Samarco Mineracao’s joint venture owners are mining firms BHP Billiton and Vale SA. Samarco and its owners have all released statements saying they reject the charges.

A total of 21 people have been charged with “qualified homicide”. Other charges include serious bodily injury, flood and landslide and environmental crimes. Brazil engineering firm Vogbr has been accused of making a false report.

A recent report into the disaster commissioned by BHP Billiton and Vale concluded that the tailings dam failed when the supporting sand structure that was containing fines – the smallest waste particles after minerals are taken out of the mined material – changed from a solid structure to behaving as a liquid, known as liquefaction.

In a statement on Friday, BHP Billiton said it had yet to receive formal notification of the proceedings.

It said: “BHP Billiton Brazil rejects outright the charges against the company and the affected Individuals. We will defend the charges against the company, and fully support each of the affected individuals in their defence of the charges against them.”

A statement from Vale said it “vehemently repudiates the complaint” from the Federal Prosecutors Office. It said: “It is important to clarify that all executives and employees of Vale confirmed that, as members of the board of directors of Samarco’s advisory committees, have never been informed by the technical and governing body of Samarco on any irregularities that represent real and/or untreated risks to the tailings dam, or by any of the consultants responsible for the technical monitoring of that structure.”

A statement from Samarco said: “Samarco refutes the charges made by the Federal Public Prosecution Service, which failed to take into account the defence and other statements made by Samarco throughout the investigations initiated immediately after the collapse of the Fundão dam, which prove that the company had no prior knowledge of risks to its structure.

“The Fundão dam was inspected regularly, not only by the authorities but also by independent international consultants. Any and all measures suggested and implemented with regard to the management of the structure followed best engineering and safety practices.

“The stability of the Fundão dam was attested to by the consultant Vogbr. Safety has always been a priority in Samarco’s management strategy, and the company reiterates that it never reduced its investments in safety.”

New Civil Engineer has contacted Vogbr for a response to the allegation.

A judge in Brazil will now examine the charges to see if the case can proceed.

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