Frequently asked questions

Environmental impacts

Is the recovery of the Doce River possible?

Yes. The mud from the disruption of the dam has settled mainly in the riverbed of Rio Doce, after passing through Rio Carmo, one of the rivers that form Rio Doce. The other affluents, such as rivers Piranga, Casca, Matipó, Piracicaba, Santo Antônio, Corrente, Caratinga, Suaçuí Pequeno, Suaçuí Grande, Manhuaçu and Guandu, have remained untouched and will be responsible for renovating the water and life of Rio Doce. In an article published on November 18th, on Colabora website, the journalist Agostinho Vieira claims that, contrary to what has been circulating on social networks, the Doce River is not dead and can be recuperated. The text cites some factors that have been causing siltation in the Doce River for years, such as lack of sanitation and deforestation in the region, especially of riparian forests. The report concludes, giving as an example the recuperation of the River Thames in London, which had being considered biologically dead and is now clean. Several federal and state institutions of Espírito Santo have recently formed a governance group to jointly address issues related to the Doce River basin and report on their activities to society. The fist content which is posted brings relevant information about how it is possible to make the Doce River waters potable by treating it with natural flocculants. To learn about this, access www.governancapelodoce.com.br.

Is the waste from the dams toxic?

No. The waste at the dam sites is inert, it has no toxic components. It is mainly composed of silica (sand) from the iron ore processing and contains no chemicals that pose a risk to health. The results of the analyzes requested by Samarco to SGSGeosol Laboratórios, specialized in environmental and geochemical analyzes of soil, attests that the waste from the Fundão dam offers no harm to people or the environment. Samples were collected on November 8th near Bento Rodrigues, Monsenhor Horta, Pedras, Barretos and Barra Longa, in the state of Minas Gerais, and were analyzed according to the Brazilian standard NBR 10004:2004. These sites have been identified for collection for being the closest to the accident, and therefore the samples represent the best material deposited in the dam. After the analyzes, the waste at these sites has been classified as non-hazardous. This means that the analyzed material presents no harm to people and the environment, considering that it provides no contaminants to water, even in rain exposure conditions.

What is being done to preserve the Doce River?

Samarco reported that, according to analyzes carried out on Sunday, November 22th, the efficiency of the contention barriers, which have been installed in protected areas, at Regencia, Linhares (Espírito Santo), reached 80% compared to the water turbidity inside the estuary to the main river channel. To assist, Samarco hired Golder Associates, a company specializing in disasters of this magnitude, which will be dedicated to the preparation of plans, to the management and to the supervision of the actions that are being implemented in all areas impacted along the Doce River. Samarco is also considering partnerships with other environmental institutions such as the Earth Institute, belonging to the photographer Sebastião Salgado, which has directed operations for the environmental rehabilitation of water sources along the river.

Why is the plume being directed to the sea?

According to Samarco, it was defined by the Public Prosecution Service, Iema (State Environmental Agency), Projeto Tamar and the Chico Mendes Institute. The agencies have recommended directing the turbidity plume to the sea to protect the fauna and flora in the Doce River estuary. According to the specialists, the material will thus be diluted more quickly due to the volume of water involved, as opposed to what would happen if it remained stationary in the estuary

What is the current state of Doce River’s water?

According to Samarco, results of new analyzes carried out by the Brazilian Geological Service (CPRM) and by the National Water Agency (ANA) issued on 15 December attest to the fact that the water quality of the Doce River is compatible with the results found prior to the passage of the turbidity plume. The reports further confirm that, after proper treatment to comply with the potability standards defined by the Ministry of Health (Ruling 2914), the water can be consumed by the population without any risk. With regard to the presence of heavy metals dissolved in the water, the levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, copper, zinc and others are, in general terms, similar to those found in previous analyzes performed by CPRM in 2010.

Future actions

What are Vale's plans for the reconstruction of the affected area?

Vale and BHP Billiton announced on November 27th plans to work together, with Samarco, to establish a voluntary, non-profit fund to support the rescue and recuperation of the Rio Doce river system, affected by the accident. The fund would initially be sponsored by Vale and BHP. The aim is to seek additional financial support from other private, public and NGOs. The initial value is still being defined. The objective, however, is that these resources would support the rescue and recuperation effort of the river system for the longer term. Additionally, Vale supports the 1 billion real emergency fund announced by Samarco, Brazilian federal and Minas Gerais state prosecutors. The Preliminary Commitment will guarantee funding for a range of emergency measures including prevention, mitigation, remediation and compensation for environmental and social effects of the incident at Samarco’s Fundão dam on November 5th. In Espírito Santo, Samarco also signed a Commitment with the Brazilian federal and Espirito Santo state prosecutors and the Ministry of Work, to cover measures in the municipalities of Baixo Guandu, Colatina, Linhares and Marilândia to prevent and mitigate socio-environmental impacts resulting from the accident. The measures include, ensuring a supply of water to the affected areas and the immediate rescue of flora and fauna in the area. On March 2, Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton signed an agreement with the federal governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo for the social, environmental and economic recovery of the regions affected by the burst of the Fundão dam. The agreement foresees the creation of a private foundation that will be responsible for implementing about 40 repair programs. Find out more.

About tailings dams

Do these structures have an emergency plan that covers the hypothesis of their bursting? If so, what measures do they provide for?

Vale has Tailings Dam Emergency Action Plans (PAEBMs) for all the structures that are required to have them according to legislation. These plans present mitigation and communication procedures that must be followed in emergency situations in order to preserve life, health, property and the environment. These plans contain general information about the dam in question, define the areas affected if they should hypothetically burst, and set out preventive and corrective procedures for emergency situations, as well as notification and communication procedures, including warning systems and general responsibilities. Samarco has informed that the communities impacted by the accident have been visited by their teams with orientation regarding the emergency procedure. The people were informed about the location and how to reach the sirens installed and the meeting points at each location.

Does the Germano and Santarém dams face a risk of bursting?

Samarco has declared, at the press conference held on November 17, 2015, that its dam and dike structures are stable. The company has a control room, with employees monitoring the dams for 24 hours a day. Daily inspections are being conducted by the company´s technical team. At the Germano unit in Mariana, Minas Gerais, the Selinha Dike’s current safety factor is 1.22. This means it is 22% above minimum equilibrium, which is 1.0. In the case of Santarém, the current figure is 1.37, meaning it is 37% above the minimum equilibrium point. Emergency works have being carried out for containment and reinforcement to increase the safety factor and reduce risks in the structures resulting from the accident. Standard NBR 13028 establishes that in normal operating conditions, the safety factor must be at least 1.5, i.e. 50% above the equilibrium limit. Find out more on Samarco’s website.

Has Vale deposited tailings from its mines above the Campo Grande dam's capacity?

No. Conforming Emergency Action Plan Document Mining Dam (PAEBM) (access the document here – Portuguese only), filed with the competent organs, its design capacity is 23.5 Mm3 and currently, the dam occupies a 19.59 Mm3 volume. Therefore, the Campo Grande dam is not saturated.

Has Vale taken any steps involving its dams following the occurrence in Mariana? What measures have been taken?

Vale carried out a detailed inspection of the structural conditions of all its tailings dams. No alterations were detected. The following components were checked: access roads, tailings ponds, crests, berms, slopes, surface drainage, internal drainage systems, abutments and overflow systems. Eighteen geotechnics professionals from Vale’s ferrous minerals area, as well as a number of office teams, have been working on an emergency basis, contributing to the speed of the inspections’ results.

How are the dams monitored?

Our dams undergo visual inspections and are monitored using instruments that provide responses regarding their structural behaviour. The monitoring data is analyzed by geotechnical engineers, who frequently evaluate whether instrument readings are compatible with the structures’ normal operating conditions.

This waste transfer activity is licensed?

The waste transfer activity for Samarco is licensed since 1994 for the Corrective Operational License of Alegria Mine, COPAM process number 182/87/03/94. This license has been subjected to successive revalidation, as required by current environmental legislation in Minas Gerais. Licences are issued by COPAM (State Environmental Policy Council of the State of Minas Gerais). In this environmental license, was expected that Vale could waste on new Samarco’s structures that were to be built. The responsibility for licensing for the disposal of waste in the Fundão Dam is Samarco’s. Access here the license issued (Portuguese only).

What amount of waste from its mines has been deposited by Vale in Samarco dams?

In 2014, Vale sent to Samarco the amount of 1,005,581 tons of waste from the Alegria mine, in Minas Gerais. This amount represents 4.4722% of the total amount deposited in the dam Fundão between January 2014 and December 2014. Click here to access the Samarco Financial bill (Portuguese only).

What dam monitoring standards are followed, and what do they involve?

When developing designs for dams, Vale complies with the criteria of standard NBR 13028, as well as the design guidelines of renowned international organizations, such as the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). During the dam operating period, Vale complies with state and federal laws. In Brazil, Law 12,334 of 2010 establishes the National Dam Safety Policy, and National Mineral Production Department (DNPM) ordinances 416/2012 and 526/2013 govern Dam Safety Plans (PSBs) and Tailings Dam Emergency Action Plans (PAEBMs), respectively. In Minas Gerais, Vale complies with regulatory rulings 62/2002 and 87/2005, which govern dam classification criteria, as well as safety management requirements.

Support for Samarco

Has Vale provided a team to assist with the work?

Around 100 employees are directly involved in the work. Our teams have helped Samarco in obtaining materials needed for initial care for people left homeless, and in identifying and registering accommodation in the region. Shifts of doctors, nurses, social workers and other employees have been working around the clock to assist the victims. The health center at Alegria Mine, which belongs to Vale and is located near the accident site, is also available all the time to assists victims.

Has Vale’s CEO been to the accident site?

Yes, he has. Right away, on Saturday, November 7, Murilo Ferreira flew over the accident site and met with the CEO of Samarco, Ricardo Vescovi, and Vale’s leaders in Minas Gerais. On Wednesday, November 11, he returned to Mariana, together with the CEO of BHP Billiton, Andrew Mackenzie. On that day, the three CEOs gave a press conference.

What has Samarco done for rescued animals?

Samarco informed that, since November 5, over 250 animals were rescued in Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo. All these animals received veterinary medical care and food. The resources made available allowed the implementation of various initiatives, including, hiring veterinarians and civilian firefighters, a shed with field hospital for all animals and the leasing of transportation necessary to rescue, and all the supplies needed to ensure quality of life of these animals.
On February 16, Samarco and its partners in the front of assistance have started a process to decide about the future of the animals assisted in the rescue centers set up by the company. Find out more.

How has Vale acted to support Samarco in the wake of the accident?

As a shareholder in Samarco, together with BHP Billiton, Vale has been participating actively in measures to guarantee the safety of people affected by the accident. Since the first day, we have been providing human and material resources to aid Samarco with the work to rescue people and remove them from hazardous areas. Three researchers of the Vale Institute of Technology in Belém (PA), with experience in monitoring and coastal areas, were driven to integrate Samarco team. They are conducting a monitoring work in the area near the mouth of the Doce River.

How many people have been given shelter?

Samarco has informed that a total of 99,7% of the families from Mariana and Barra Longa impacted by the dam accident are installed in rented or family homes. The relocation of people has been done daily by Samarco, with active participation of the Municipal Secretariat of Social Assistance in Mariana. The order of the changes follows the priorities set by the residents during the meetings held twice a week between representatives of communities, Samarco, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Mariana and other competent bodies. All properties rented by the company were equipped with furniture, appliances, household items and layette, preferably acquired from suppliers in the region. Before the relocation, the company also supplied the houses with food, cleaning and personal hygiene products and drinking water.

Is there a risk of flooding in the cities situated on the banks of the Doce River?

Following the release of a report on Saturday, November 14th by the CPRM (Mineral Resources Research Company) of the Brazilian Geological Service, Samarco announced that the turbidity plume will not cause flooding in the municipalities in the state of Espírito Santo situated on the banks of the Doce River. The entity is monitoring the riverbed 24/7, in real time, to track the progress of the plume, which was passing slowly by the city of Resplendor (MG) on Saturday. Read more about it on the Samarco website

What has Vale supplied to support Samarco?

Vale has provided helicopters and 30,000 litres of aircraft fuel, used in work to rescue the victims in the impacted districts, as well as three cars and two ambulances. A helipad at Alegria Mine has been made available for rescue teams. Six of Vale’s trekking specialists are also helping with the work, as well as a number of loss prevention and control technicians. Five off-highway trucks (used in mining operations), a wheel loader and a dozer are doing rock-fill work on the dam that burst. A Vale dam specialist and two other geotechnical engineers have been assigned full-time to Samarco to assist the company. In the first days following the accident, Vale was responsible for supplying mineral water to Arena Mariana, the facility where homeless people were initially taken before being accommodated in the municipality’s hotels. In the municipality of Acaiaca, 5 km from Barra Longa, one of the districts of Mariana affected by the mud, Vale has set up a water extraction system, featuring a pump, power generator and pipes, dedicated to supplying two tanker trucks. These trucks are continuously transporting water to clean up the locality. A water extraction system has also been installed in Barra Longa to serve residents.

When did the children in the affected areas return to school?

With Samarco’s support ,900 students from the districts of Mariana and the municipality of Barra Longa affected by the dam accident started their school year in the second half of February. Buildings were rented and renovated by the Company, new spaces prepared, and the students will also receive help with transportation. The company has also helped with furniture and equipment for schools and arranged the transportation of the students of the two communities to units.

Operational impacts

Has Vale’s production been affected by the accident?

Production at the Mariana mining hub was 6.3 Mt in the fourth quarter of 2015, 38.6% and 34.2% lower than in 3Q15 and 4Q14, respectively, due to the accident at Samarco’s Fundão tailing dam.