Brazil’s Failed Fundão Dam Caused More Damage Than Previously Thought – Contaminating The Abrolhos Marine National Park

Source: Hakai Magazine/Eduardo Campos Lima 

Photo: Mia Morete/Wikimedia Commons 

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The collapse of the Fundão waste dam in Mariana, Brazil, used to store the byproducts of mining activities, sent 32.6 million cubic meters of tailings—a toxic slurry of mud, iron oxides, manganese, and silica—spilling into the Doce River. The unprecedented disaster, which took place in November 2015, caused 19 deaths and destroyed two rural districts. Seventeen days later, the toxic tide arrived at the sea, more than 600 kilometers away.

The damage to the rivers in the Doce basin was devastating, and, more than three years on, fishing is still forbidden at several locations because of high concentrations of heavy metals in the water. But unlike in rivers, the effects the tailings had on marine life in the South Atlantic have remained largely unknown.

Now, a new study led by Heitor Evangelista, a geoscientist at Rio de Janeiro State University, shows that the worst-case scenario became reality. The collapse of the Fundão waste dam, a facility operated by Samarco—a joint venture of Vale and BHP—contaminated the coral reefs in the Abrolhos Marine National Park, a 914-square-kilometer nature reserve in northeast Brazil. The toxic slurry caused the contamination of coral exoskeletons by heavy metals—substances that can have serious health effects on many organisms.

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Photo: Mia Morete/Wikimedia Commons

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