Brazil to File $5.3 Billion Suit Against Samarco, Owners in Dam Collapse

This Dow Jones article describes the decision by the Government of Brazil to sue Vale SA, BHP Billiton Ltd. and their joint venture Samarco Mineração SA in response to the catastrophic dam failure that contaminated the Rio Doce.  It also reports on the admission by Vale that there were toxic elements in the river.  It also describes a report by the Minas Gerais state Institute of Water Management, or IGAM, dated Nov. 17 but only published this week, after being ordered to do so by prosecutors.

The article states: "The 29-page document includes samples collected at 12 points along the Rio Doce between Nov. 7 and Nov. 12, as the mud from Samarco's dam snaked downstream. At various collection points, the report showed record levels of toxic metals. . . . Arsenic, which the World Health Organization says can cause skin lesions, liver disease and cancer, was detected in the river at as much as 108 times the legal maximum. Lead, which can cause brain damage, was measured at as much as 165 times the legal maximum. Copper, linked to gastrointestinal problems, was at as much as 75 times the limit. Chromium, which can cause gastrointestinal disorders and hemorrhaging, was at as much as 57 times the limit. Among the other metals detected were nickel, cadmium, manganese and iron found at elevated levels. Tests by a municipal water agency along the river, which were sent to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also showed high levels of toxic elements such as arsenic on Nov. 10. This and other evidence prompted a blistering criticism of BHP, Vale and the Brazilian government by U.N. special rapporteurs John Knox and Baskut Tuncak on Wednesday."

The article concluded by noting the statement of Brazil's Environment Ministry that the revitalization efforts in the Rio Doce basin may take at least a decade.