Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd., co-owner of the mining company responsible for a fatal dam burst at a Brazilian mine in November, raised the death toll in the tragedy to 17 on Tuesday. The company also said that it would release findings of an external investigation into the incident.
BHP said, in a statement, that the 17 fatalities include five members of the local community and 12 dam workers. The company added that two dam workers remained unaccounted for. BHP had previously said that 13 people were killed in the accident and six were missing.
BHP, which, along with Brazilian company Vale SA, owns Samarco Mineracao SA — the company operating the mine — said New York-based law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP was hired to investigate the cause of the dam breach. It also stated that the company was planning to release the findings and share the results with other resource companies.
“Samarco continues to work with the government authorities in Brazil to relocate displaced people from temporary accommodation to rented housing and to distribute living wage debit cards to those who have been impacted. All displaced people will have been given the opportunity to relocate before Dec. 25, 2015,” BHP said in the statement.
Last Friday, a judge in Brazil's state of Minas Gerais, where the dam burst occurred, froze the Brazilian assets of BHP and Vale on finding that Samarco was unable to pay for damages. The judge also ruled that BHP and Vale could be held responsible for the incident, for which the government is demanding 20 billion reais ($5 billion).
Late November, BHP announced that tailings in the mud that polluted an important river were chemically stable and that the chemical composition in the water would not be affected.
“The tailings that entered the Rio Doce [river] were comprised of clay and silt material from the washing and processing of earth containing iron ore, which is naturally abundant in the region. Based on available data, the tailings are chemically stable. They will not change chemical composition in water and will behave in the environment like normal soils in the catchment,” BHP had said.