The Brumadinho Dam Incident Analysis

1190 words (5 pages) Essay in Environmental Sciences

23/09/19 Environmental Sciences Reference this

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The Brumadinho Dam Incident


This paper looks over the Brumadinho dam incident that occurred January 25th of 2019. Using resources from the Environmental Protection Agency, and an article from national geographic, it was identified that the dam was not only old and outdated, it was build using the upstream method. This method is known for being susceptible to vibrations, and with blast mining happening only a few miles away from the dam, it was bound to fail. The conclusion draw was that the failure could have been prevented by upgrading the dam to a more modern construction that was not rustable to vibration. While high in price up front, this could have prevented the major losses of life and money the company is now responsible for.


 On January 25th of 2019 the Brumadinho Dam collapsed with a reported death toll of one hundred and seventy-seven and twenty-three non-fatal injuries. The dam, which was owned by Vale the same company responsible for another dam collapse in 2015, the Mariana dam disaster happened three years prior with a similar tailing design. The Brumadinho dam was constructed using the upstream method, which allows for a comparison with the regulations and recommendations for this construction method with the Environmental Protection Agency.

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With this comparison possible it is possible to answer the following questions; Was the failure of the dam similar with what would cause a failure in the Environmental Protection Agencies document? As well as, what actions should have been taken to prevent this catastrophe? 

Review of Literature:

 Though the investigation on this incident is still going on, with the death toll still coming in, there is plenty of information available to look into the causes of this catastrophe. “Built in 1976 by Ferteco Mineração, the dam used the upstream method, which, although common, is the least safe, according to experts” (Gabriel De Sá, 2019). Not only is this known as one of the least safe methods of constructing a dam, this was also one that was built forty-three years ago. This means that structural integrity was most likely compromised even farther due to just the age of the dam.

 In the same article De Sa wrote, it is mentioned that “Zhouri says upstream dams should be banned from mining in Brazil. “This technique is outdated and obsolete, used only in developing countries. It is not safe for the population, but it is the cheapest,” she says. “There are alternatives, such as dry containment, and Vale has this technology. The state must demand it. “We learned very little from Mariana’s tragedy. The rupture of the dam of Fundão should have been a huge alert,” says Ricas. “Costs shouldn’t justify avoidance of technical measures that guarantee the safety of the population, of biodiversity, and of the environment.” (Gabriel De Sá, 2019). From this there is an obvious issue of the company not wanting to spend the money and recourses upgrading methods that could have prevented and protected the people from this catastrophe. Not to mention that the company made a similar if not the same mistake three years briar with the Mariana dam failure. However, Vale released a press statement on January 29th that mentioned the decommissioning the rest of the upstream dams they own. “The plan presented to the Brazilian authorities aims to de-characterize these structures as tailings dams in order to reintegrate them into the environment. Vale currently has 10 dams built by the upstream method, all of which are currently inactive. All of Vale’s dams present stability reports issued by external, independent and internationally respected companies.” (Vale, 2019).

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The Environmental Protection Agency also has plenty of information on the upstream dam construction method, as well as information which can cause a failure. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that on an upstream method dam “…vibration of sufficient intensity and magnitude caused by blasting, trains, heavy trucks, etc., may cause liquefaction.  The shear strength can be reduced to near zero such that the fluidized slimes easily burst through the remaining thin, unsaturated sand-dike shell and the dam collapses and flows.” (EPA, 94). This shows that the application of this mine is not meant for the use of mining, especially since the mining that was being done required large detonations that cause mass amounts of vibration. The method used may have been more affordable, however other methods would have been more stable.


 This papers methodology is a research-based method, this paper looks at a news article over the incident to show an outside point of view. Then there is a professional look into by a document from the Environmental Protection Agency, this gave information on the type of dam and what the dam should be used for, and what could cause a failure of the dam. After these findings, the paper was able to come to a conclusion based on the knowledge gained from the news article and the Environmental Protection Agency’s documents about this type of dam.


  The conclusion found from the information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the news article from national geographic is that this entire event, and the many who where killed was fully preventable. Not only did the company want to cut costs, they did not even think of upgrading a forty-three-year-old dam. The company also decided to blast mine by a dam that is susceptible to vibrations. So not only was the age a factor in the failure of this dam, but the process was sped up by the vibrations that most likely caused the liquification and failure of the dam. This is made worse by the fact that the company had another dam with a similar build, that also collapsed in a similar manner. The only good that came from the company was the decommissioning of the other dams with the same construction style. The best way to have prevented this catastrophe as a safety manager is to upgrade the dam by changing the construction type, while this may be expensive it would have prevented the major losses of the failure that occurred.



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