17 May 2022


Brazil’s Mining Disaster

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Mining is the process of extracting minerals and other precious materials from the earth’s natural setting for human benefit. All minerals are of significant value to human beings, mostly financially. Mining has been a very popular practice across the earth since it is of great economic value both to the country and the people that partake it. Brazil is one of the countries that are major players within the mining industry. Mining subjects many people and is generally a risky venture. Not only are the miners at constant risk of losing their lives, but the people around mining areas and the environment itself are also at risk ( Phillips, 2015) . The environment too is subjected to so many risks in the course of mining. To this end, there are regulatory bodies around the world in various countries that are tasked with the duty of overseeing how the practice is carried out in order to ensure that the mining process is undertaken in a manner that’s safe to both human life and to the environment.

The Brazilian mining disaster involved the Bento Rodrigues dam, constructed as an iron ore dam to facilitate the mining of the iron present within the area around it. The dam was one of the largest iron ore dams in the world with an approximated capacity of 60 million m3. All this was pure iron ore which was composed of iron components and the mud from which it was to be mined. The cause of the disaster was that one of the gates of the dam experienced a technical failure, causing it to break and thus all the contents of the dam poured to the surrounding areas causing a lot of loss, death and negative implications to the environment. The weakness in the dam had been foreseen in a report published in the year 2013 but nobody took responsibility and the necessary precautions were not taken ( Labonne, 2016) .The dam was a joint venture that was between BHP Billiton and Vale companies belonging to Australia and Brazil respectively. There were many other speculated and specific causes for the failure of the dam that are still under investigation to date. 

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The dam disaster caused a lot of negative effects to the environment. It will take decades and billions of dollars to repair the damages on the environment that the broken dam caused in Brazil, neighboring beaches and water bodies. The fishing industry in Brazil, especially the areas near the dam and its environs, face an unknown future with respect to whether the normal production of fish will ever be the same again. The dam disaster caused a huge pollution of water bodies around the area causing the death and migration of thousands of fish. Bearing in mind that only one of three of the dams broke, the people of the area are uncertain of future accidents which may be caused by the other two dams. The most affected water body was probably the River Rio Doce which was a major source of fish for thousands of families and is regarded the fifth largest river in Brazil ( Nazareno & Vitule, 2016) . Fishing in this river became almost inconsequential as there were no fish that were left alive. Many of these fishermen were left without a source of living which was fishing and also, without A source of food, since their main source was the fish in the water bodies around. 

Not only was fishing affected but also the source of water. Many people depended on River Rio Doce and other water bodies for water for home use and domestic animals as well. The accident that was experienced in the dam cut off water supply for nearly a quarter of a million people who lived in the region. The effects affected everyone within the 186 mile downstream distance that the dam was away from the ocean. The muddy nature of the dam’s content which was iron seeped through the soil of the region making it harmful to almost all living creatures and humans in the area ( Nazareno & Vitule, 2016) . The fact that plants absorb water content from the soil, and it was contaminated, it would mean that the soil was toxic and posed great risk to anyone who consumed plants in the area as well as animals such as cows as well. 

All the water sources in the entire of the region began to turn brown due to the iron content in the water. This was not an immediate effect but the entire water ecosystem was affected. People could no longer drink water from the natural ecosystem but had to wait for shipping of water from far regions of the country, depending on well-wishers and the government. The iron ore contaminated every water body, ground and even the ocean within several miles from where the river Rio Doce joined the Atlantic Ocean. It affected the rich marine life that is present in Brazil’s ocean which includes dolphins, thousands of fish species and even whales ( Nazareno & Vitule, 2016) . The mud and contaminated water affected the Brazilian beaches by discoloring it. Due to the reduced oxygen level in the water bodies as a result of the iron ore mud, even plants, especially along the river had been drastically affected. The effects of the dam were feared to reach the Abrolhos Marine National Park which boasts of some of the richest marine biodiversity in the entire South Atlantic region.

After the dam broke, the government issued a state of public calamity mostly due to the sudden shortage in consumable or usable water. People were not advised to bath, let alone taste water from any source that may have been contaminated by the dam’s accident. Not only was the water said to contain iron, but it was also speculated to contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead which are quite harmful and toxic to human health ( Labonne, 2016) .

The crisis caused deaths, thankfully, not of many people. Less than 20 people were confirmed dead as a result of the dam’s accident with tens of others reported missing ever since the accident occurred. There should be measures that the government ought to undertake in order to ensure such drastic accidents do not occur again not only in the same place but also all dams in the country ( Phillips, 2015) . Other governments should also learn from this and ensure that people and the environment are safe from mining disasters. One important reason that led to the Brazil’s disaster is that they ignored warnings and assessments from professionals and other specialists who had spotted weaknesses in the dam. The lack of keenness and follow-up of such warnings are quite dangerous and may lead to even worse consequences. 

It has been resolved, that in future, all mining agencies and companies should make sure that their mines and other mineral companies follow all safety requirements in future. The government should make sure that the environment is safe and also the people in the mines and surroundings are safe ( Phillips, 2015) .There should be bodies formed that regulate the mining industry so as to ensure that this and more accidents do not occur in future. 


Phillips, D. (2015). Brazil’s mining tragedy: Was it a preventable disaster. The Guardian . Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/nov/25/brazils-mining-tragedy-dam-preventable-disaster-samarco-vale-bhp-billiton

Nazareno, A. G., & Vitule, J. R. S. (2016). Pollution: Too many mining disasters in Brazil.  Nature 531 (7596), 580-580.

Labonne, B. (2016). Mining dam failure: Business as usual?  The Extractive Industries and Society , 45 (4), 34-46.

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