Joint venture partners BHP Billiton and Vale have committed to a US$260m (AU$366m) emergency fund after a tailings dam disaster at the Samarco mine in Brazil, which is thought to have led to as many as two dozen deaths.
Two iron ore tailings dams suffered a catastrophic failure on November 5 at the Samarco iron ore mine in eastern Brazil. Samarco is a joint venture between BHP and its Brazilian competitor, Vale.
The tailings dam failures led to the flooding of the nearby town of Bento Rodrigues, leading to the deaths of several people, with reports stating more than a dozen are still missing, feared dead.
With Bento Rodrigues now evacuated, concerns have been raised that the floodwater could contaminate the nearby Rio Gualaxo do Norte, a tributary to the Doce River – one of Brazil’s most significant water sources.
BHP on Tuesday announced the US$260m emergency fund from Samarco, but conceded the funding was just a “preliminary commitment” to the state of Minas Gerais and its people.
“The commitment will guarantee funding for a range of emergency measures including prevention, mitigation, remediation and compensation for environmental and social effects of the incident,” the company said.
“Samarco will manage the emergency fund in conjunction with the Public Ministry who will also select and independent auditor to audit the fund’s expenses.”
Separate to that deal, BHP said Samarco has also signed a commitment to authorities in neighbouring state Espirito Santo – where the Doce River reaches the ocean.
“Samarco has also signed a commitment with authorities in Espirito Santo that covers measures to prevent and mitigate socio-environmental impacts in the state,” BHP explained.
“The measures include ensuring a supply of water in the affected areas, analysis of water quality in the Rio Doce basin and the recovery of fauna in the area.”