BRASILIA – The CEO of Brazilian mining giant Vale said on Thursday that his company should not be condemned for last month’s collapse of a tailings dam, which left 165 people dead and 155 others missing and feared dead.
“Vale is a Brazilian jewel and can’t be condemned for an accident that happened in one of its dams, no matter how great the tragedy,” Fabio Schvartsman told a congressional committee investigating the disaster of Jan. 25 in Brumadinho, a town in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.
His comment offended lawmakers from across the political spectrum who are demanding a response from Vale for what many describe as a crime rather than an accident.
Joice Hasselmann, a member of President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right PSL party, said that “fining Vale is not enough” and insisted on the necessity of establishing the “criminal responsibility” of company executives.
Hasselmann has proposed the establishment of a special congressional panel to probe the Brumadinho disaster and has already secured the support of 194 of her colleagues, far more than the 171 needed to approve the bill.
Vale, according to the CEO, did not have information ahead of the collapse pointing to “any imminent danger” and has yet to determine the cause of the failure that allowed a torrent of muddy mining waste to engulf part of the mining complex along with vehicles and nearby homes.
Scores of families were left homeless and officials are still working to quantify the damage to the environment.
Authorities continue their search-and-rescue effort in Brumadinho even though the chance of finding survivors is considered “minimal” and some bodies buried under the sea of mud released by the dam may never be located.
Brazilian federal prosecutors say Vale internal documents show that the world’s largest iron-ore producer was in possession last October of data indicating the risk of a collapse of the dam in Brumadinho.
Schvartsman again denied that claim on Thursday and said that technical studies carried out for Vale by reputable outside firms certified the stability of the dam and gave no cause for alarm.
The tragedy in Brumadinho occurred just three years after a similar tailings dam collapse at a mined co-owned by Vale and Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton in Mariana, Minas Gerais, left 19 dead and caused an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.