Skip to main content

The debris of the municipal school of Bento Rodrigues district, which was covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, is pictured in Mariana, Brazil, Nov. 10, 2015.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

A Brazilian mayor, part of a 200,000-strong group claim against miner BHP over a 2015 burst dam, has told an English court that suing the Anglo-Australian giant in Brazil would be like David fighting Goliath - without the biblical ending.

Mario Antonio Coelho, mayor of Brazil’s Barra Longa municipality, has told a jurisdictional hearing in Manchester that bringing the £5 billion ($6.3 billion) case in England over Brazil’s worst environmental disaster is the only route to proper justice, court documents show.

Duarte Junior, the mayor of Mariana, who has travelled to Manchester, northern England, with Rio Doce’s mayor Silverio da Luz, urged BHP to listen to Brazilians.

Story continues below advertisement

“Since BHP went to Brazil and did not respect our rights, we came to England and our rights will be respected here,” he told Reuters in an email.

Brazilian claimants, who have formed the largest group action in English legal history, are expected to start laying out their case later on Monday. BHP, the world’s largest miner by market value, last week labelled the action pointless and wasteful.

Coelho said the disaster had decimated the local economy, choking the district in sludge and dust and leaving the town “at the mercy” of the Renova Foundation, an entity created by the miner and its partners to manage repairs and reparations.

He alleged Renova dumped 30,000 tonnes of mining waste in an area inhabited by poorer Afro-Brazilians and used it as building material to reconstruct areas such as the main square, leaving it with an “unmistakable stench” and stoking anguish over conflicting information about health risks.

BHP has called for the lawsuit to be struck out or suspended, alleging it duplicates Brazilian proceedings and that victims are receiving - or will receive - full redress.

The collapse of the Fundao tailings dam, which stored mining waste and is owned by the Samarco joint venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining company Vale, killed 19 and poured roughly 40 million cubic metres of sludge into communities, the Rio Doce river and Atlantic Ocean 650 km away.

Claimants allege BHP ignored safety warnings as the dam’s capacity was repeatedly increased by raising its height, disregarding cracks that pointed to early signs of rupture, and that compensation for victims has been too slow and inadequate.

Story continues below advertisement

Da Luz said a hydroelectric plant - a major regional source of revenue - remains paralysed and the “vast majority” of mining waste remains in the water.

“To this day, no-one can fish in the river, nor can we use the river for recreational purposes as we used to,” he said in a witness statement.

Indigenous Krenak and Guarani people have also told Reuters they now fear the rivers.

BHP says there is no restriction on fish consumption in the Rio Doce and denies allegations the mining waste is toxic.

The hearing is expected to close on Friday, although a judgment is not expected before September. Further trials will establish liability and damage levels.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies