An indigenous tribe affected by the Samarco tailings dam disaster in Brazil earlier this month are staging blockades along the Vale do Rio Doce railroad line that passes near their village, halting future iron ore shipments until the problem is resolved.
The spill, which took place at the Samacro mining complex, released a massive flood of iron-mining waste and toxic sludge that killed at least nine people.
Members of the Krenak tribe who live about 300 kilometres downstream from the disaster site say that the river water, their only source of drinking water, is now undrinkable.
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"Like us, now the trees and the animals also don't have any water. The river dies, we all die,” Krenak chief Geovani Krevak said.
Despite assurances by Samarco that the mud-flow contains no elements hazardous to humans, health experts have cautioned it contains traces of arsenic, zinc, copper, mercury and antimony. Environmentalists say the toxins could stay in the water for the next 100 years.
The sludge is now making its way to the Atlantic ocean, poisoning the water supply of the estimated 500,000 people living along its shores.
Samarco said the Krenak tribe had been given 8,000 litres of mineral water, 140 water cisterns and a water truck to help them get through the situation.
Meanwhile, mine co-owners BHP Billiton Ltd. and Vale SA warned on Wednesday that it is taking emergency measures to stabilize pressure levels at the two at-risk dams, named Germano and Santaré, in the mountains of Minas Gerais state.
"We reiterate once again that Samarco has been engaging all its efforts to minimize the effects of the accident and take preventive measures in order to increase the safety factors of the two structures," the company wrote in an email.