Understanding Brazil’s latest environmental disaster

. Feb 27, 2018
Understanding Brazil's latest environmental disaster Norsk Hydro Norsk Hydro has caused Brazil's latest environmental disaster
Understanding Brazil's latest environmental disaster Norsk Hydro

Norsk Hydro has caused Brazil’s latest environmental disaster

On February 17, The Brazilian Report informed our premium newsletter subscribers of a leak in a bauxite dam located in northern Brazil. Strong rainfall in the region of Bacarena, in the state of Pará, has reportedly led to the overflow of an aluminum residue dam owned by mining company Hydro Alunorte, a subsidiary of Norway’s Norsk Hydro. Locals registered the presence of reddish mud after the rains.

Since then, new information has emerged from the case. Here, we’re breaking it down for you.

1. The leak

Intense rainfall on February 16 and 17 caused floods in Bacarena, a city in the state of Pará. Residents informed Pará’s State Prosecution Office of possible water contamination in the region. Areas adjacent to the dam owned by Hydro Alunorte presented a reddish color – which is the same color of bauxite residue.

</p> <p>On February 18, auditors from the State Environmental Office headed to the mining company saying that there was no leak. However, the audit identified drainage problems in the plant. Hydro Alunorte maintained that despite the rain, no leaks were found.</p> <h3>2. The investigation</h3> <p>On February 21, Pará’s State Congress created a hearings committee, formed by four representatives, to investigate the case. Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment and the Brazilian Environmental Agency (Ibama) joined forces.</p> <p>On the following day, the Evandro Chagas Institute (IEC) published a report confirming that several areas adjacent to the dam were contaminated by mineral residue. Auditors also found an illegal pipeline that was pumping contaminated water into a local stream. That raised water acidity to levels that are harmful to humans. Levels of sodium, nitrate, and aluminum also exceeded their limits.</p> <p>“There was no emergency plan to alert the neighboring community in the case of a disaster,” IEC’s director Marcelo de Oliveira Lima told <em>G1</em>.</p> <h3>3. Hydro Alunorte speaks</h3> <p>At first, the company denied any issues with its infrastructure. According to Hydro Alunorte’s Director of the Environment, Health, Security, and Social Responsibility, Domingos Campos, the dam resisted the strong rainfall, “standing strong, intact, with no leaks.” Campos said that the water in the region turned reddish because of the soil composition. No relation to a leak.</p> <p>Yet on February 23, the company <a href="">admitted to a leak</a> and also to the existence of the illegal pipeline. “During one of our inspections, a pipeline pumping small amounts of water into the refinery’s area was found. […] The company is conducting an internal investigation to detect the origin of the material, and it is shutting the pipeline down right away,” the firm revealed in a statement.</p> <h3>4. Suspicions over the first audit</h3> <p>The Order of Attorneys of Brazil has filed a lawsuit challenging the first inspection, which found no evidence of a leak. The suit asks for the impeachment of the state’s Secretary of the Environment, as well as that of his deputy.</p> <h3>5. History of wrongdoings</h3> <p>Back in 2009, Ibama fined Hydro Alunorte for the same reason: residue leaks. The fines amounted to 17.1 million BRL, but they have yet to be paid because the company has appealed the decision.Nine years ago, the leak provoked the death of thousands of fish and degraded the region’s biodiversity.</p> <p>This time around, the state government of Pará announced it will distribute drinkable water to the affected population. Some local residents have experienced diarrhea, vomiting, and skin-related problems.</p> <p>The case bears a sinister resemblance to the <a href="">Mariana accident</a>, Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster. In late 2015, a dam operated by Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, collapsed and spilled the equivalent of 21,000 Olympic-sized pools of mud. Villages were destroyed, leaving 19 people dead.</p> <p>The victims are still awaiting compensation.

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