By Samantha Page
16 November 2015
(Climate Progress) – Nine people are dead, 19 are missing, and 250,000 still don’t have drinking water two weeks after two dams at a mine in Brazil collapsed, sending 15.8 billion gallons of waste-laden water and sludge though downstream towns in the state of Minas Gerais, about 250 miles north of Rio de Janero.
Brazil’s president compared the disaster to the 2005 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hundreds of people have been displaced and an entire town was swept away by the floodwaters.
Immediately after the collapse, officials from the mining company said the deluge was “not toxic.” The iron ore being mined in the area is responsible for the bright orange color.
But scientists told Reuters that the mud and water may also contain chemicals used by Vale to purify the ore. In addition, simply releasing this much water and mud into the area may change the pathways of local streams and suffocate wildlife. It will also likely affect the riverbanks.
“It’s already clear wildlife is being killed by this mud,” Klemens Laschesfki, professor of geosciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais told Reuters. “To say the mud is not a health risk is overly simplistic.”
When a dam collapsed in Colorado in August, many of the toxic contaminants in that water were naturally occurring, water-soluble elements — including heavy metals that dissolve over time and are dangerous to human health. [more]