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The Brumadinho located Vale mining operation experienced a massive tailings dam failure early this year that shook the iron ore mining industry to its core. This saw the genesis of a “frenzy” by mining companies in re-evaluating the safety of their tailings structures. As one of the biggest miners of iron ore in the world reeled under this undesired event, iron ore mining prices began self-pollinating as production got scaled down, a wild card opportunity for Vale’s junior competitors to cash in on the opportunity especially those that had never imagined markets will bow down for their low quality products.
Eight months down the line, Vale has started working its way up again with more determination and renewed efforts aiming to protect the communities and reduce the impact on the environment. The company is now carrying out three impoundment projects in areas downstream of the dams: Sul Superior (Barão de Cocais), B3/B4 (community at Macacos, in Nova Lima), and in the flood spot of Forquilha I, II, III, IV and Grupo dams (community of São Gonçalo do Bação, in Itabirito). The construction work is expected to be complete by early 2020, and the project includes de-characterization of nine dams, amounting to R$7.1 billion, as announced in Vale’s first quarter balance sheet in May.
The impoundment structures will be able to retain tailings from dams in an extreme breach scenario. Sul Superior, B3/B4, Forquilha I and III dams are classified at Emergency Level 3. Forquilha II and Grupo dams are classified at Emergency Level 2 and Forquilha IV dam has the Stability Condition Statement, but its operation was shutdown to comply with a request from the Brazil’s National Mining Agency that, in February, suspended the operation of Fábrica mine, where these dams are located.
For the B3/B4 dams (at Macacos), the impoundment project – which will be 30 meters high and 190 meters long – is expected to be complete by December this year. It consists of a barrier formed by rocks (rock-fill) and located 8km downstream of the dam, just before the road that connects the district of Macacos to the headquarters of Nova Lima. These works will be essential to protect the Rio das Velhas basin and the Water Treatment Plant at Bela Fama, as well as all the Secondary Safety Zones (Honório Bicalho, Rio Acima, Raposos, and Nova Lima).
In Barão de Cocais, emergency work has already been complete, consisting of the installation of two wire mesh barriers and one made granite blocks. These barriers will reduce the flooding speed in case of a breach. But the main works will be a concrete impoundment structure located 6km downstream of the 36-meter-high and 306-meter-long dam, which will also be complete by December. In the region of Forquilha dams, the impoundment structure will be located 11km downstream of Forquilha I Dam in Itabirito; it will be 60 meters high and 350 meters long. The project, which is located in Itabirito, is expected to be complete by January 2020.
The company believes it is essential to protect the Secondary Safety Zone, which includes – in addition to Itabirito – the municipalities of Raposos, Rio Acima, Nova Lima, and three districts of Belo Horizonte (Jardim Vitória III, Beija-Flor, and Maria Tereza).
Up to July, Vale had paid 171 individual indemnities and continues to evaluate cases of people affected who wish to apply for this right. Also this month, company concluded with the MPT of Minas Gerais one of the definitive agreement of indemnification for families of Vale employees and third-party workers affected. In the environmental area, 750 thousand cubic meters of material were removed and transported to an area authorized by competent bodies.
Since the breach of the B1 Dam at the Córrego do Feijão Mine, Vale has been dedicated to quickly repairing the damage in Brumadinho and other municipalities affected along the Paraopeba river, with actions that include indemnification, donations, medical and psychological assistance, the purchasing of medicines and the construction of safety structures, among other initiatives.