By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s federal government, along with the state governments of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, announced they will sue mining company Samarco and its controllers, Brazil’s Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP Billinton in R$20 billion for the accident at the beginning of November in which two dams burst.
According to officials the three companies will have to pay the expenses of recovery all the degraded areas left behind after tons of toxic water from the dams flooded a wide region near the town of Mariana, Minas Gerais and spilled into the Rio Doce (Sweet River), which runs along the state of Minas Gerais, into the state of Espirito Santo and to the Atlantic Ocean for 850 km.
The mud, estimated in 50,000 tons, has already reached the Atlantic Ocean, causing havoc in towns along the river, which had their drinking water supply cut off due to possible contamination. Entire communities of fishermen have been unable to work because the fish and sea life has been contaminated and are dying.
The governments want the R$20 billion to be placed into a fund and administered by a private entity for the next ten years, while the region tries to recover. According to government news agency, Agencia Brasil, the value may be increased during the action suit if the justice department finds it is not enough to salvage the damaged area, minimize the impacts of the disaster, recompose biologically the Rio Doce basin and pay the communities and people affected by the accident.
According to Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, who participated in the meeting where the suit was decided, the accident is the civil and criminal responsibility of the three companies and they should pay for all damages and recovery efforts involved.
In addition to the suit, IBAMA (Brazil’s Environmental Entity) has already issued fines which add up to R$250 million. This is considered the worst man-made environmental catastrophe in Brazil’s history.