Vale disaster highlights importance of tailings dam safety

Bento Rodrigues Image: Senado Federal via Flickr (CC)

Brazilian iron ore major Vale’s latest tailings dam disaster at the Córrego de Feijão mine near Brumadinho, Brazil, has placed a spotlight on the importance of tailings dam safety.

The dam, which burst on January 25, has killed at least 121 people, with over 200 still missing.

It is the second major tailings disaster for Vale in less than four years, following the Bento Rodrigues disaster in November 2015 at the tailings dam owned by the Samarco joint venture between Vale and BHP, killing 19 people.

Both disasters occurred in the Minas Gerais region of the country.

The two companies had only just reached an agreement with Brazilian prosecutors last October regarding the finalisation of compensation payments over the initial disaster, and now Vale looks set to have another fight on its hands.

The disaster has already had wide-reaching international effects, particularly on the global iron ore price.

BHP chief executive officer Andrew Mackenzie, speaking at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Perth last week, said the company would help in any way it could.

“I believe we can and we will make mining safe, but last week’s catastrophe shows that we as an industry still have much to do. At BHP we are committed to learn from what has happened and to redouble our efforts to make sure that events like [Brumadinho] cannot happen,” Mackenzie said.