RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazil’s government said it is preparing to sue mining giants Vale SA, BHP Billiton Ltd. BHP -2.00 % and their joint venture Samarco Mineração SA in response to a catastrophic dam failure earlier this month, as Vale acknowledged the presence of toxic elements in a river downstream for the first time.
The civil suit demanding damages of 20 billion Brazilian reais ($5.3 billion) is expected to be filed on Monday, the Attorney General’s office said on Friday in a news release. The proceeds are intended to create a fund to help recovery efforts in the Rio Doce, a major river that was contaminated with mud and toxic mining waste in the wake of the Nov. 5 collapse of Samarco’s dam in Minas Gerais.
As many as 13 people were killed and hundreds displaced as the mud swallowed up entire villages below the dam. An additional 11 are missing.
The lawsuit will represent by far the biggest government response yet to what is widely considered one of Brazil’s worst environmental disasters. Environmental agency Ibama had previously announced a fine of 250 million reais, while prosecutors secured a preliminary commitment from the mining companies to create a 1-billion-real emergency fund.
The amount of damages sought, the Attorney General’s office said, “is preliminary and could be raised over the judicial process, since the environmental damages of the mud’s arrival at the ocean have not yet been calculated.”
Vale’s admission about the river contamination came two days after a United Nations report alleging “high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals” in the Rio Doce and criticizing the mining companies and the Brazilian government for their “defensive” public response to the incident.
Vale, BHP Billiton and Samarco all say the tsunami of mud unleashed by the dam break comprised water, mud, iron-oxide and sand, none of which are harmful. In a news conference on Friday, Vale executives continued to stress that was the case. But Vania Somavilla, Vale’s executive director of human relations, health and safety, sustainability and energy, said the mud may have upset toxic elements settled in the bed of the Rio Doce or along its banks.
“In fact there was lead, arsenic—not mercury—detected in some points along the river,” Ms. Somavilla said. “When the dam breaks and that stuff washes out the banks of the river, it could have picked up some kind of material that was already present, from the most diverse of origins, but they’re all materials present in nature.”
She cited a report on the river’s water quality after the collapse by the Minas Gerais state Institute of Water Management, or IGAM, or IGAM. The report was dated Nov. 17 but was only published this week, after prosecutors ordered it to do so. A spokesman for IGAM said he didn’t know why the institute didn’t publish the report earlier.
The 29-page document includes samples collected at 12 points along the Rio Doce between Nov. 7 and Nov. 12, as the mud from Samarco’s dam snaked downstream. At various collection points, the report showed record levels of toxic metals.
Vale and BHP Billiton have attempted to distance themselves legally from Samarco—a limited liability company they say is independently run—while touting their contributions to recovery efforts. The two companies said Friday they plan to create a volunteer and nonprofit fund with Samarco to clean up the Rio Doce.
Attorney General Luiz Inácio Adams said authorities are open to the possibility of an agreement whereby the mining companies propose initiatives themselves.
“[Samarco] has announced measures that show it is preoccupied with recovering its image before society for the damage it caused, which indicates there is an understanding attitude toward the government,” Mr. Adams was quoted as saying in the news release. “If the willingness doesn’t come, what we’ll ask the judge to do is to block the money by court order.”
Brazilian authorities have come under fire for their reaction to the catastrophe that, in the eyes of many critics, underscores politicians’ dependence on the mining industry for job creation and tax revenue. Vale is the country’s top exporter and is known to donate millions of dollars to political campaigns.The mayor of Mariana, where Samarco’s dam stood, said shortly after the accident that his town depends on mining for 80% of its revenue, making it “hostage” to the industry. Citing more than 40 water samples between Nov. 14 and 18 taken by federal agencies, the government said Thursday that “there was not an increase in the presence of heavy metals in the water and sediments.” In a statement Friday, the government said metals detected in the earlier tests by IGAM had likely settled by the time its samples were collected.
Arsenic, which the World Health Organization says can cause skin lesions, liver disease and cancer, was detected in the river at as much as 108 times the legal maximum. Lead, which can cause brain damage, was measured at as much as 165 times the legal maximum. Copper, linked to gastrointestinal problems, was at as much as 75 times the limit. Chromium, which can cause gastrointestinal disorders and hemorrhaging, was at as much as 57 times the limit. Among the other metals detected were nickel, cadmium, manganese and iron found at elevated levels.
Tests by a municipal water agency along the river, which were sent to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also showed high levels of toxic elements such as arsenic on Nov. 10. This and other evidence prompted a blistering criticism of BHP, Vale and the Brazilian government by U.N. special rapporteurs John Knox and Baskut Tuncak on Wednesday.
“This is not the time for defensive posturing,” Messrs. Knox and Tuncak said, “It is not acceptable that it has taken three weeks for information about the toxic risks of the mining disaster to surface.”
Brazil’s Environment Ministry said Friday it expects the revitalization efforts in the Rio Doce basin to take at least 10 years. The government may seek to hire workers in the communities affected by the disaster, which is believed to have devastated fisheries and other economic activity along the river, officials said.
Write to Paul Kiernan at email@example.com
By SADIE GURMAN, Associated Press
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A gunman burst into a Planned Parenthood clinic and opened fire, launching several gunbattles and an hourslong standoff with police as patients and staff took cover under furniture and inside locked rooms. By the time the shooter surrendered, three people were killed — including a police officer — and nine others were wounded, authorities said.
For hours, police had no communication with the shooter other than intermittent gunfire from inside the Colorado Springs clinic. As the standoff progressed, officers inside the building herded people into one area and evacuated others.
Officers eventually moved in, shouted at the gunman and persuaded him to surrender, police said. About five hours after the attack started, authorities led away a man wearing a white T-shirt.
Police identified him as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear of North Carolina. Jail booking records indicate Dear is due in court on Monday.
Few other details about the suspect were immediately available, including whether he had any connection to Planned Parenthood.
"We don't have any information on this individual's mentality, or his ideas or ideology," Colorado Springs police Lt. Catherine Buckley told reporters on Friday. She said Saturday that investigators expect to study the crime scene for several days looking for clues.
Dear spent time at a small cabin in North Carolina with no electricity or running water about a half-mile up a twisty dirt road near Black Mountain, a neighbor said. On Saturday, there was a cross made of twigs on the door of the pale yellow shack.
"You can tell his personality is just off. The way he looked at you, the way he talked, he just seemed off," said James Russell, who lives a few hundred feet down the mountain. "If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive — topics all over place."
Back in Colorado, Planned Parenthood said all of its staff at the clinic was safe. The organization said it did not know the circumstances or motives behind the attack or whether the organization was the target.
The University of Colorado in Colorado Springs police department identified the officer killed as 44-year-old Garrett Swasey, a six-year veteran of the force. He was married and had a son and daughter, according to the website of his church, Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs.
There were no immediate details about the two civilians killed in the attack. Five officers and four others were hospitalized in good condition, police said.
"Certainly it could have been much, much worse if it were not for the heroism of our police officers to corner the person in the building," Colorado Springs Fire Chief Chris Riley said.
President Barack Obama condemned the violence.
"This is not normal. We can't let it become normal," he said in a statement. "If we truly care about this — if we're going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough."
Witnesses described a chaotic scene when the shooting first started just before noon.
Ozy Licano was in the two-story building's parking lot when he saw someone crawling toward the clinic's door. He tried to escape in his car when the gunman looked at him.
"He came out, and we looked each other in the eye, and he started aiming, and then he started shooting," Licano said. "I saw two holes go right through my windshield as I was trying to quickly back up and he just kept shooting and I started bleeding."
Licano drove away and took refuge at a nearby grocery store.
"He was aiming for my head," he said of the gunman. "It's just weird to stare in the face of someone like that. And he didn't win."
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The latest on the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. (All times local):
North Carolina neighbors of the man police say attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado say he was quiet and when he did speak, he didn't appeared to be all there.
Robert Lewis Dear spent time at a small cabin with no electricity or running water about a half-mile up a twisty dirt road near Black Mountain, North Carolina. On Saturday, there was a cross made of twigs on the door of the pale yellow shack.
James Russell lived a few hundred feet down the mountain from Lewis and says Dear would jump from topic to topic when he spoke and just seemed off. But neighbors also say he didn't talk about religion or abortion.
Dear also spent time in a house in the nearby town of Swannanoa.
President Barack Obama says the Planned Parenthood shootings show the urgent need "to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war" for "people who have no business wielding them."
"Enough is enough," Obama says in a statement a day after a gunman killed three people at a Colorado clinic.
Obama says it's not known what motivated the shooter, but it's clear "more Americans and their families had fear forced upon them" — and that, the president says, "is not normal. We can't let it become normal."
He says if "we truly care about this — if we're going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience," then America must make it harder to get guns.
Police have identified the suspect in an attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs as Robert Lewis Dear of North Carolina.
The 6-foot-4-inch man was taken into custody Friday after an hourslong standoff and shootout. Jail booking records indicate that Dear is due in court on Monday.
No other details about the suspect were immediately available, including whether he had any connection to Planned Parenthood. Police say three people, including an officer, were killed in the attack.
Lt. Catherine Buckley said Saturday that the items that Dear brought to the scene are "no longer a threat." She wouldn't say what the items were or why they were no longer a threat.
Buckley says investigators expect to study the crime scene for several days.
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