By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Officials in Brazil have issued arrest warrants for seven people connected to the collapse of the Samarco dam in Mariana in November of 2015, including the company’s CEO. All seven are charged with homicide in the accident that led to the deaths of nineteen people, two of whom have not been found.
According to state officials, Samarco’s CEO, Ricardo Vescovi, along with five other company employees and an engineer from VogBR were negligent in the deaths of those who perished after the dam burst, spilling tons of contaminated water and mud into the rural town of Bento Rodrigues. Each may be sentenced to jail terms that range from 12 to 30 years for each of the deaths.
According to officials the executives are also facing charges of polluting the area’s drinking water and unintentional flooding. Investigators say the cause of the disaster problems in the drainage system, with the saturation of waste in the dam. Officials also claim that much of the equipment had not been properly monitored and some were defective.
The collapse of the Samarco dam led to the greatest man-made environmental disaster in Brazilian history, with thousands of kilometers of land being contaminated along the Rio Doce River, all the way 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.
In January, Minas Gerais state prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against the mining company as well as its controllers, Brazilian mining giant Vale and Anglo-American company BHP Billiton for the dam accident.
After the announcement of the charges, Samarco released a statement saying that it considered the “charges ‘erroneous’ and will wait for a decision by the courts before taking further action”. The note reiterates that the company continues to corroborate with authorities. Vale and BHP did not comment on the charges, stating that independent investigations were still underway to determine the causes of the accident.