Mining giants BHP-Billiton and Vale have agreed to pay US$260 million through their Brazilian subsidiary Samarco for damages caused by an environmental catastrophe that polluted a river, leveled a community, and killed at least 17 people in Brazil two weeks ago.
Samarco signed a “preliminary commitment” on Monday to pay for cleanup, repair, and compensation related to the disaster caused by dam ruptures at its iron ore mine in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais on Nov. 5.
The Bento Rodrigues community covered in mud after the Samarco dam burst. I Photo: Reuters
More than 500 people have been displaced since the reservoir breach unleashed a huge flood of mud and mining waste on the surrounding area. The mudslide contaminated over 300 miles of Brazil’s Doce River, shut down community water supplies, and almost entirely destroyed the nearby community of Bento Rodrigues. As many as thousands of people remain vulnerable in the aftermath of the disaster.
According to prosecutors, the extent of damage could amount to much more than the US$260 million pledged by Samarco, but the legal commitment is an important step toward compensation.
The announcement comes after the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama fined Samarco US$66.3 million last week for damages caused in the disaster.
The news also comes as some 100 protesters hurled mud at Vale’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro shouting “Vale, you killed me!”
Brazilian mining firm Vale co-owns Samarco with Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP-Billiton.
"We are demonstrating in solidarity with the victims and against the damage from this ecological crime committed by Vale," Marcelo Castanheda, one of the organizers of the protesters, told AFP. "We don't even know the full extent of it yet."
The demonstrators slammed the mining company for the environmental catastrophe saying the incident was “not an accident” and demanded the company pay up for the social and environmental tragedy.
"We, members of civil society, want to pressure the participants in this tragedy so that they pay," said Castanheda.
“Protesters throw mud at the doors of the Vale headquarters, downtown Rio de Janeiro.”
Experts say the Samarco dam rupture was the biggest mining disaster in Brazil’s history.
According to estimates by Deutsche Bank, the total cost of cleanup billed to the mining companies could be as much as US$1 billion.
Samarco will deliver the first US$130 million of its US$260 million payment within the next 10 days.
WATCH: Rescue Efforts for Samarco Mine Workers in Brazil