Mining giant BHP Billiton just gave some vital info about Brazil's 'worst environmental catastrophe'

BHP Billiton, one of the largest mining companies in the world, just released an update over the catastrophe that hit its iron ore operation Sarmarco in Minas Gerais, Brazil, which occurred on November 5, 2015.

BHP Billiton and another mining group Vale each hold a 50% interest in Samarco but do not influence or have anything to do with the day-to-day management of the operations in the company.

BHP confirmed in a regulatory statement that operations remain suspended after a dam collapsed and released 60 million cubic metres of mud downstream into the water systems of hundreds of towns and cities.

Currently, there have been 13 fatalities and six people who remain unaccounted for. “Emergency services continue to search for the six missing people,” it added in its statement.

Samarco continues to work with the Government authorities in Brazil to relocate displaced people from temporary accommodation to rented housing. Relocation is expected to be completed in February 2016.

Clean-up work has commenced in the Barra Longa area, focusing on access roads, housing and bridge repairs.

Monitoring of the remaining dam structures at Samarco continues. Interim work to repair the damage to the dams and to reinforce parts of the structure has commenced.

Brazil’s government described the dam breach as the worst environmental catastrophe to hit the country.

BHP confirmed in the statement that the Brazilian Federal Government and certain State governments “intends to start legal proceedings” against Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton Brazilian real $20 billion (£3.5 billion, $5.2 billion) for clean-up costs and damages.

However, BHP added that it, and Samarco and Vale have “not received formal notice of the action at this stage:”

BHP Billiton confirms its commitment to supporting Samarco to rebuild the community and restore the environment affected by the breach of the dams.

This includes plans, announced by Vale and BHP Billiton on 27 November 2015, to work together with Samarco to establish a voluntary, non-profit fund to support the recovery of the Rio Doce river system.

BHP’s statement also confirmed that the mud that swept the towns and houses are “not hazardous to human health, based on the hazard classification of the material under Brazilian standards.”

amarco has advised that the tailings material released as a result of the breach of the Fundão and Santarém dams is considered to be non-reactive and would be geochemically stable when introduced to the river system or ocean.

As a result of the high volume of sand and clay tailings material that moved through the river system, a large number of fish died due to reduced oxygen uptake. Assessment of these impacts is ongoing.

The United Nations earlier this month said the breached dam caused environmental damage across 850 kilometres. This is the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools of mud waste.

This is currently what the damage looks like:

Reuters’ picture agency said this is a picture of the debris of a house at Bento Rodrigues district, “which was covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale and BHP Billiton burst in Mariana, Brazil.

Reuters also presented a picture of a family sitting in a shelter for displaced people of the Bento Rodrigues district:

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