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Brazilian Mininig Firm Allegedly Knew Dam at Risk of Bursting

By on January 18, 2016

SAO PAULO — The mining company responsible for Latin America’s biggest environmental tragedy on record knew since 2013 that its dam in southeast Brazil was at risk of bursting.

Brazil’s TV Globo reported Sunday night that it had obtained documents showing that consultants hired by mining firm Samarco reported more than two years ago that safety was compromised at the Mariana dam in Minas Gerais state.

Samarco is a joint-venture of mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton. The company’s attorney said that the firm took precautions after the warning.

The dam burst on Nov. 5, killing 17 people and polluting 850 kilometers (530 miles) of waterways in two states of southeast Brazil.

TV Globo, the head of Brazil’s biggest media group, also said that Minas Gerais investigators believe that Samarco neglected key documents to obtain the dam’s license. The company denies that.

The TV-led media conglomerate added that the investigation by the Minas Gerais attorney general’s office showed that the first concerns about the mine’s safety appeared in 2007. Samarco managed to get the environmental license from the state government even though it failed to provide all necessary documents to operate the mine.

The Minas Gerais state attorney general’s office and the state government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last week, Brazil’s federal police indicted Samarco, Vale and seven of their executives for the dam burst. Among those indicted were Samarco’s CEO, geology experts and an engineer who issued a document in July of 2015 saying that the dam was stable.

Samarco said it disagreed with the federal police decision because no conclusion has been made about what exactly caused the burst.

Brazil’s federal government and Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states filed a lawsuit in December asking Samarco, Vale and BHP to pay about $5 billion in damages.

By The Associated Press

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