In August 2015, the tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine collapsed, resulting in a toxic spill of 24 million cubic meters of mine waste. In November 2015, an even bigger toxic spill occurred in Mariana, Brazil at the Samarco mine, a 50-50 joint venture of Brazil’s Vale and BHP. The toxic tsumani travelled the 800 km of the Sweet River to the Atlantic. The tragedy took 19 lives, left 1200 homeless and thousands more with loss of land and livelihoods. It destroyed the Sweet River watershed. In May, Brazilian federal prosecutors launched a US$ 58 billion lawsuit against Samarco/Vale/BHP and two state governments.
In a round-table discussion, people affected by these disasters from Mt. Polley and Marianal will compare the strikingly similar circumstances surrounding the two tragedies. Both mines were intensifying production to keep profit levels up in the post-boom markets. They were also cutting costs through lay-offs and reduced security measures. There were fewer inspections. Warnings that the tailing dam needed repairs went unheeded. Bigger dams and lower grade ores meant more mine waste, filling tailings dams beyond their engineered capacity. The mining companies in both countries were big contributors to the state/provincial political parties. Are these circumstances unique to Mt. Polley and Mariana or do they characterize a typical mine under the neoliberal world order. Industry experts themselves are noting the correlation between post-boom cycles and tailings pond incidents. Are there more “environmental crimes” like Mt. Polley and Mariana all over the globe just waiting to happen?
Jacinda Mack, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, Canada
Ugo Lapointe, MiningWatch Canada
Leticia Oliveira, Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB), Brazil
Beatriz Cerqueira, CUT-MG, Brazil