By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – State prosecutors in Minas Gerais, Brazil, announced on Thursday they were filing a civil lawsuit against mining company Samarco as well as its controllers, Brazilian mining giant Vale and Anglo-American company BHP Billiton for the dam accident last month in Mariana, which killed at least thirteen people and caused the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.

Brazil dam burst disaster, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Brazil News
The region of Bento Rodrigues, in Mariana was devastated in early November after a dam from mining company Samarco burst, photo by Antonio Cruz/AgBr.

According to prosecutors, the civil lawsuit was filed after Samarco repeatedly delayed signing a commitment agreement that would legally guarantee the company’s obligations towards the victims of the incident.

“Given the company’s position on this, which causes great legal uncertainty for the victims, the prosecution decided to file the civil action,” said the statement released by officials.

In the statement officials also justify filing suit against Samarco’s two controllers, “It is understood that Vale is jointly responsible for the events, as there is evidence that the company used the Fundão dam to deposit mining residues from the Alegria mine. BHP Billiton, on the other hand, profited from the misuse of the dam, becoming co-responsible under the so-called “risk-benefit theory.”

Samarco officials, however, say that the company is doing everything possible to help the victims in a timely manner. “From the first moment, Samarco mobilized all of its available resources, human and financial, to cope with the emergencies and seek solutions to minimize the socio-environmental impacts resulting from the accident with the dam. We reinforce our commitment to continue providing all possible support to the families and communities impacted so far,” noted the company on Wednesday in release in its website.

In late November, Brazil’s federal government, along with the state governments of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, announced they were suing the three mining companies for R$20 billion (US$ 5.3 billion) in damages.

The toxic water, which spilled from the collapsed dam on November 5th, produced an estimated 50,000 tons of mud, which ran along the Rio Doce (Sweet 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.


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