UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Sludge from a burst dam in Brazil contains concentrated toxic waste, United Nations experts said, and not merely mud and water, as mining companies claimed.
John Knox, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and Baskut Tuncak, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances, said in a report submitted Wednesday the collapse of a tailing dam at an iron ore mine in Mariana, Brazil, on Nov. 5, holding back over two billion cubic feet of mud and mining waste, resulted in the spread of deadly chemicals.
Arsenic, manganese and other metals were found, at several thousand times the acceptable maximums, in samples taken at spots on Brazil's Rio Doce, the primary river in the region. The U.N. study referred to "toxic mud waste" and "high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals" in the samples.
A spokeswoman for Samarco Mineracao S.A., a joint venture of mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd., and operators of the dam, previously said the silt flowing down the river consisted only of water, iron ore particles and quartz and that "the material analyzed does not present a danger to human health."
At least 12 people died in the mud flow, at least 11 remain missing and a number of people have visited area hospitals. The incident left thousands of people homeless and cut off drinking water supplies. The Brazilian government noted a negative impact on the local fishing industry.
"The steps taken by the Brazilian government, Vale and BHP Billiton to prevent harm were clearly insufficient. The Government and companies should be doing everything within their power to prevent further harm, including exposure to heavy metals and other toxic chemicals," the report said.
Samarco was fined $66 million for the accident, and said it will devote $260 million to cleanup efforts.