By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Ministerio Publico Federal – MPF (Federal Prosecutors Office) in Brazil has filed a civil suit against Samarco mining company and its controllers, Brazilian Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton for R$155 billion for the damages caused when a dam burst in early November of 2015, spilling toxic waste into the countryside and contaminating one of the largest rivers in the region.
“The study (already conducted) does not portray the full extent of the damage. We will need a diagnosis of at least two years to have a better assessment about the losses,” said prosecutor José Adércio Sampaio on Tuesday, May 3rd.
According to the prosecutors, the amount of the suit was based on the 2010 BP accident in the Gulf of Mexico, where eleven people died and more than 4.9 million barrels of oil seeped into the ocean. “If the damage is comparable to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy, it does not seem reasonable that the environment in another country is more valuable than ours,” added Sampaio, justifying the high amount of the suit.
Prosecutors say that the responsibility for the accident is of the three companies, and not only Samarco, and that is the reason all three are being sued. The suit calls for an initial payment of R$ 7.7 billion to be made in the next 12 months.
This civil suit filed by prosecutors is unconnected to the state government suit filed against the three companies in February. In a deal with the government Samarco agreed to pay R$4.4 billion in the next three years to help recover the Rio Doce Basin in the state of Espirito Santo. Also in February Samarco executives were charged with homicide due to the incident.
The collapse of the dam destroyed the town Bento Rodrigues in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, killing nineteen persons and contaminating the Rio Doce River along two states, all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean.
Towns along the river had their drinking water supply temporarily cut off due to possible contamination and entire communities of fishermen have been unable to work because of the contamination of fish and sea life.