By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – After almost a week of denials by both Hydro Alunorte and Para state officials, experts from Brazil’s Health Ministry confirmed that basins carrying residue deposits from a Norwegian mining operation overflowed last weekend, dumping toxic waste into waterways and soil around the metropolitan area of Para’s capital, Belem, located in the Amazon region.
According to residents the heavy rains registered over the weekend, caused basins around Belem to overflow, including the ones within Hydro Alunorte’s compound. Now locals are worried the leakage may turn out to be another environmental disaster like the 2015 dam bust in Mariana, Minas Gerais, which killed 19 persons and contaminated thousands of acres of land and waterways.
“It was a lot of rain; there was water from coming from there [pointing to the mining company],” Raimundo Cunha who owns a family farm just outside of Belem told news media G1.
“It was red, black and muddy water, it filled everything here. It was dirty mud. We were afraid the children would catch something (disease),” added the farmer.
The document issued on Thursday by the Ministry’s Evandro Chagas Institute notes that the population of at least three communities in this region of the Amazon are at risk and recommends that potable water be provided to the population of those communities, who in their majority use shallow artesian wells as their water supply.
Samples taken by the Institute’s technicians found high levels of lead, aluminum, sodium and other substances harmful to human and animal health. They want an emergency plan to be put in place in the region with daily monitoring of the situation and the issuing of alerts to the population if necessary.
“Alert systems are still pretty flawed. There is no effective emergency plan. And while the Municipal Environment Department is helping these communities, it does not have the technological conditions to offer a quick response,” Institute researcher Marcelo Oliveira Lima told reporters.
And after days of vehemently denying any environmental contamination, on Thursday both Para’s environmental agency and Hydro Alunorte released statements saying they were looking into the claims. Norway’s Hydro is one of the largest aluminum producers in the world, with offices and operations in over forty countries and with more than 35,000 employees worldwide.