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  • The village of Bento Rodrigues in Mariana, Brazil where a dam burst at a mining waste site

    The village of Bento Rodrigues in Mariana, Brazil where a dam burst at a mining waste site | Photo: AFP

Published 2 March 2016

Samarco delegates signed the agreement in the capital Brasilia.

An iron ore mine where a burst dam flattened a village, killed 19 people and caused “the biggest environmental disaster in the history of Brazil,” settled with the government Wednesday for US$6.2 billion.

Samarco delegates signed the agreement in the capital Brasilia.

The company is co-owned by Brazil’s Vale iron ore giant and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company.

President Dilma Rousseff said the settlement would help heal "a tragedy without precedent." The funds, which will go toward social and environmental damages, will be paid out over 15 years.

The Nov. 5 accident near Mariana in Minas Gerais state began when a tailings dam at Samarco's mine failed, unleashing a flood of polluted water and mud into the River Doce, one of the most important in Brazil.

A village was destroyed, drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people were interrupted and damage extended right up to the mouth of the river on the Atlantic coast, with wildlife, tourism businesses and fishing communities all suffering.

Seven people have been accused of murder over the catastrophe.

IN PICTURES: Biggest Ecological Disaster in Brazil History

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said last November that the mud spill released from a dam collapse at an iron ore mine in Brazil earlier this month is in fact toxic, debunking claims by the mine’s operator that the mud was “chemically stable.”

Citing "new evidence," the U.N. human rights agency said in a statement the residue "contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals."

"The scale of the environmental damage is the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic mud waste contaminating the soil, rivers and water system of an area covering over 850 kilometers," the U.N. agency's special rapporteur John Knox said in the statement.

Brazil’s Globo TV reported that a previously unpublished document revealed that Samarco management had known that there were safety risks at the mine since 2013, including knowledge of the danger that the dam could burst.

The Samarco mine environmental disaster is being called the worst in Brazil’s history.

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