ORIXIMINÁ MUNICIPALITY, Pará state, Brazil — When our Mongabay reporting team visited the Amazon riverine communities of Boa Nova and Saracá, one theme predominated: “My children’s future is here,” said one resident. “I don’t want to leave this land,” declared another. “I’m only leaving here to go to the cemetery,” a third emphatically stated.
But this determination to remain on their land is interwoven with another, darker refrain: the people’s expressed unease at living in the shadow of numerous large tailings dams, some less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from their homes, all constructed and owned by Mineração Rio do Norte (MRN), the world’s fourth largest bauxite producer, located beside the Trombetas River.
Developing world inequity?
Lúcia Andrade, the director of the Comissão Pró-índio de São Paulo, an NGO that works with the communities, says that one of the problems is that dam monitoring by ANM lacks transparency. The mining agency’s reports are not made public, supposedly to protect the company’s industrial property rights, but leaving local people without access to the agency’s safety assessments.
Impacts stem from decades of mining
Boa Nova resident Domingos Gomes told Mongabay that the new system installed in his house was problematic for a long while. The water that came out of pipes, he said, was reddish, and people had to let the sediment settle to make it drinkable. “I was even reluctant to put that water on plants,” he says. Gomes believes that MRN sorted out the problem because of the negative publicity generated by an alarming photo published by Comissão Pró-Índio de São Paulo.
MRN was “ashamed when everyone in the world could see that the water was clearly not fit to drink,” he said.
Water controversy continues
Lúcia Andrade says that the communities’ reports about the problems they face in the creeks and even in the artesian wells suggest that the monitoring carried out by the company isn’t sufficient to diagnose the wide-ranging impact of the mining on water resources. And she also wonders whether there should be different drinking water standards for the Amazon region, where people consume water directly from rivers and creeks: “The [government] criteria were established thinking of water in towns, where it will be purified before it is consumed,” she explains.