© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mine Executives In Brazil Step Down After Deadly Dam Collapse


To Brazil now. Executives of the mining company Vale have quit after a mining disaster that killed some 300 people. Here's reporter Catherine Osborn.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: When the dam at Vale's iron mine in the small city of Brumadinho burst in late January, Brazilians thought back to a similar recent disaster. Vale co-owned a nearby mine where a dam burst in 2015. That killed 19 people, and the mine waste left a trail of environmental ruin. But no one was arrested, and the mine's owners paid less than 10 percent of the federal environmental fines they owed. Now state investigators are taking a new enforcement approach. Last week, they cited engineering reports from 2017 and 2018 that alerted Vale managers the dam was unstable and called for 14 employees to step down. Four of them did so temporarily on Saturday, including CEO Fabio Schvartsman (ph). Risk management professor Gerardo Portela from the Federal University of Rio says this shows a change in how Brazilian investigators understand accountability for this kind of disaster.

GERARDO PORTELA: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "They started to study the engineering processes better and discovered that there is information about these risks that gets to top managers," he says. Schvartsman, the CEO, said in a letter to the board on Saturday that he and the other directors acted adequately and correctly. The state prosecutor's report cites warnings about instability at another Vale dam since the recent disaster, saying Vale delayed in responding.

PORTELA: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: Portela says not much changed after the 2015 tragedy, but from now going forward, it does look like some change is possible. Brazilians who live near mining dams across the country have remained on high alert in recent weeks as safety certificates are being rechecked and evacuation procedures practiced.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.