Federal prosecutors in Brazil have filed a US$43.5 billion civil lawsuit against iron miner Samarco, and its owners Vale SA and BHP Billiton, for the collapse of a tailings dam in November that killed 19 people and polluted a major river.
The lawsuit, which is also against the two states impacted by the spill and the federal government, is the result of a six-month investigation led by a task force set up after the disaster, prosecutors said in a statement.
Vale said it had not been notified of the suit and was therefore unable to comment. BHP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The total damages, they said, were calculated based upon the cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the United States. BP’s total pre-tax charge for that spill reached US$53.8 billion.
Samarco has taken first steps toward reopening the mine, applying for permission to use old mining pits to store tailings. A permit, however, will only be issued once the leaks are stopped, Semad deputy director Geraldo Abreu said earlier in April.
Half of the 24 million cubic meters of tailings that remained in the dam after it burst have leaked into the provisional dikes, which are leaking the turbid water into the the Rio Doce river, reported the federal environmental protection agency Ibama. Tailings are mineral waste and water sludge left over from mining operations and stored in ponds.