The woman was Amanda Andrade. She is from the village of Brumadihno in Brazil, where she works with the orphans left when the collapse of the tailings dam at Vale’s iron ore mine swept away their parents on a tragic day in January this year. About 250 people are known to have died, most while they ate their lunch in the staff cafeteria. Amanda lost her own sister in the disaster, but spoke of how her family at least had some closure as they found her body quickly and relatively intact. The families of many others are still looking and hoping, probably in vain, to find remains.
Tailings dams are formed from the waste that is dug out of the ground and the water used in the mining process. Usually, the waste is toxic. Sometimes, it’s radioactive. The damage done when such a dam collapses is huge. Not only the loss of human life, but the impact on the local environment is devastating. In this case, the sludge included very fine metal particles which have gotten into the river’s soil and most likely caused irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
The double-edged sword of mining
As well as working with the orphans, Amanda’s also been engaged in advocacy, speaking out about Vale’s inadequate response to the tragedy. She takes every opportunity to urge the global mining industry to take seriously the issue of safety at their tailings dams. On this occasion, Amanda was addressing a session at the annual conference of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) organisation in Paris, which I had the privilege of attending in September. She was speaking to portfolio managers and strategists from global investment firms and representatives from mining giants like Anglo-American and BHP.
Amanda spoke of how the mine that had sustained their town and was a great source of pride, became an ongoing nightmare. Death and depression has followed, ranging from the extensive immediate loss of life, to the loss of a way of life. With sadness she shared how her father no longer pursues his former passion for going fishing once a week. The river was ruined as the sludge from the tailings dam swept through the valley.
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