Samarco tailings pollution reaches Brazillian coast

Toxic mud from the Samarco dam burst in Brazil has reached the Atlantic Ocean, amid claims this is the worst environmental disaster seen in the country.

The mining waste has travelled approximately 500 kilometres over two weeks to reach the sea, where Samarco has set up nine kilometres to attempt to protect flora and fauna from the mud.

The Doce Basin and Doce River have been severely polluted by processing tailings from the Samarco iron ore mine, leaving 280,000 people without water and smothering all aquatic life.

Brazil's environment minister Izabella Teixeira described the event as the worst environmental disaster in the country's history.

"Our current environmental laws are insufficient to deal with an accident of this magnitude,” she said.

Samarco Mineração has faced more than $400 million in damages, fines and frozen funds, however Deutsche Bank says the cleanup could cost more than $1 billion, with years before the site could reopen.

Brazillian president Dilma Rousseff said the government holds Samarco, Vale and BHP responsible for the catastrophe

The Samarco joint venture is presently facing a lawsuit for the disaster, with $3.69 billion claimed as compensation for environmental damages.

The suit has been lodged by lawyer Pedro Eduardo Pinheiro Silva, representing a community association in another state downriver.

BHP CEO Andrew MacKenzie apologised for the disaster at a press conference in Brazil.

Both Vale and BHP have blamed Samarco for the disaster, saying it is a separate corporate entity with its own independent management team.

In 2013 a study by a team from University Federal de Minas Gerais pointed out the connections between mining and the tailings dam as an environmental hazard.

With the evolution of saturation because of the natural flow of surface water from rain, the area above the equilibrium level would be saturated,” the study said.

“Depending on the break radius in the process, there may be several collapses at different levels of slopes and create of flow-on material with large barren mass moving downstream toward the dam body of Fundao and its surroundings.”

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