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  • A dam belonging to Brazilian mining company, Vale, collapsed on January 25, in the southeastern Brumadinho region of Minas Gerais.

    A dam belonging to Brazilian mining company, Vale, collapsed on January 25, in the southeastern Brumadinho region of Minas Gerais. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 February 2019

The water of the Paraopeba River has become useless not only for human consumption but also for irrigating crops or for fishing in the river, the study reveals.

The collapse this past January of a dam belonging to the Brazilian mining company Vale in the southeastern Brumadinho region of Minas Gerais which has left until now a death toll of 180 dead and 130 missing persons, has also destroyed the possibilities of using the Paraopeba river waters for human consumption, crop irrigation or fishing.

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A recent study published on Wednesday, states that the waters of the Paraopeba river, that were contaminated by the mining residues of the dam that collapsed, have now a high level of copper that is over 600 times over regulation for human consumption. These waters also have high concentrations of other heavy minerals.

Health authorities have established a limit of 0.009 milligrams of copper per liter of water, according to the analysis in the 22 samples taken in the Paraopeba river the concentration of copper varies between 2.5 and 5.4 milligrams per litter. These values are respectively 277 and 600 times higher than what authorities allow for human consumption.

According to specialists, the consumption of water with high concentrations of copper leads to severe damage in the human body.  From damage to the kidneys to the urinary system and could also cause anemia by the destruction of red blood cells, among other health problems.

The study was made by the SOS Mata Atlantica Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that took and analyzed 22 water samples alongside 305 kilometers of the Paraopeba river. The water of the Paraopeba has become useless not only for human consumption but also for irrigating crops or for fishing in the river, the study reveals.

According to the foundation, the spilling of over 14 tons of mining waste, released by the dam break, have practically left the Paraopeba dead. "The metals that we find in the samples, such as iron, copper and manganese, do not harm health in small quantities, but they are toxic when their levels are very high," explained biologist Marta Marcondes, one of the scientist in the study.

In addition to copper, iron and manganese, chromium was found in the samples, at levels 42 times higher than those allowed. "Chromium is one of the most dangerous metals because it can alter the genetics of organisms and affect the nervous system," Marcondes stated.

The study also concluded that low oxygen levels and high temperatures measured in the samples revealed that the water does not have conditions for the life of aquatic animals. Of the 22 points analyzed, water quality was considered bad in 10 and terrible in 12.

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