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Published on 5 July 2021

Luiz Jardim’s new report, from our partner Comissão Pró-Índio (CPI-SP), highlights the immense damage that mining dams cause in the Brazilian Amazon.

Launched in June, Jardim's report highlights the risks that the large complex of tailing dams create*.

Tailings are waste stored by mining companies after recovering valuable minerals. The leftover rock and slurry creates tailings, which often are acidic and contain high concentrations of toxic substances.

Mining companies store tailings behind earth-filled embankment dams. Over the past 100 years, more than 300 mine tailing dams worldwide have failed **.

‘Tailing dams are dangerous and can cause huge damage to people, especially those who live near them,' Jardim explains.

Jardim’s research focuses on the largest complex of mining dams in the Amazon rainforest, comprising of 26 structures.


Danger for Riverside Dwellers and Quilombolas

In the municipality of Oriximiná, the main groups threatened are the riverine and the Quilombola communities downstream from the Mineração Rio Norte (MRN) dams.

One community, Quilombo Boa Vista, is just 400 meters from one of these structures –separated only by the Igarapé Água Fria watercourse.

Image credits and information i
Credit: Carlos Penteado/Christian Aid (modified by the CPI-SP)
An Image of The Boa Vista Quilombo community and one of the MRN dams that are separated by only 400 meters.
The Boa Vista Quilombo community and one of the MRN dams are separated by only 400 meters.

To date, Brazil has suffered two catastrophic mining tailings dam collapses since 2015. The town of Mariana and 500 miles of river were contaminated with toxic sludge when an iron mining tailings dam collapsed in November 2015. This is widely referred to as Brazil’s worst environmental disaster. The failure of these dams can pollute drinking water and kill fish, forcing residents to move away. This particular disaster displaced as many as 1.4 million people who lived in villages next to the river.

Leaders from the riverine and quilombola communities, who are partners of Comissão Pró-Índio, sent messages to the launch event highlighting the challenges that they face.

 ‘Living near dams is very complicated. It frightens us as we have no idea what can happen, and at the same time we are aware of ​​the other cases that have happened, like in Mariana (dam disaster),' Fátima Viana Lopes, Riverine Dweller and teacher in the Boa Nova community.

They tell people there’s no great risk. But for us there is, because we live very close. And if we lose one life, it’s too many,’ says Amarildo Santos, from the Quilombola Boa Vista community.

 ‘The mining company never came to us to show what a dam is, the risk it had, to make us aware of it. In 40 odd years of this undertaking, we only came to know about it because the Comissão Pró-Índio is very concerned about this situation,' he adds.


More dams without community consultation

During the launch, Jardim highlighted how the Mineração Rio do Norte project in Oriximiná could grow in the future, with a new dam already under construction and 16 other dams planned.

 ‘That's what's public. But we don't know how many more will be necessary to explore all the plateaus. We are talking about an unimaginable number of dams’, Jardim explains.

Image credits and information i
Credit: Carlos Penteado/ Christian Aid
Tailing dams in Oriximiná
Tailing dams have spread in Oriximiná in recent decades, and others are already planned.

Today, MRN is already the fourth largest owner of mining dams in Brazil. The decision to create more dams is often taken without consultation with the communities that they affect.

Alternatives are available for the treatment of mining tailings, but these are not discussed with the communities.

As Jardim’s report explains, the fate of the populations who live near the dams ends up being decided according to the economic interests of the companies.

Jardim, through his report, calls for new independent and consistently implemented tailing storage standards, systems with strong environmental and social safeguards that respect community consent and that include mechanisms to hold mining companies accountable. 



*The report is currently available in Portuguese and will be available in English shortly.

**A Comprehensive Review on Reasons for Tailings Dam Failures Based on Case History: Advances in Civil Engineering.