DATE: March 17,2019  (revised 4/3/2019)



I have no faith that anyone in Brazil has the technical competence to  assess the stability of the 17 identified large at risk dams  let alone figure out how to safely de risk them.  ANM , the new mining agency, and Brazil ‘s mining law is a runaway train.   They are not capable of solving any of the problems its own confused law has created over 40 years.

17 at risk dams as of april 2 2019 marco pedlowski

source: Marcos Pedlowski April 2,2019

The 4 Risk 3 Level dams are deemed at imminent risk of failure.  Dam VI at Corregeo Do Feijao, immediately adjacent to the failed Dam1 initially survived  the explosive loss of Dam1 but is now listed at level 1 which requires specific re evaluation of stability and correction of identified problems.

The Brumadinho story is the poster child for the unknowing and misunderstanding of Static liquefaction an important and overlooked factor in as many as 50% of   of the worlds catastrophic failures Morgenstern said in his recent Melo lecture. Brumadinho and the 17 identified large at risk dams are a common story of what we neglected over  the past 40 years of our mineral supply model . How can we .now  overcome and correct for errors in dam design and construction  when for 40 years we have just kept building past them and on them . At Brumadinho at the 17 troubled at risk dams  waste problems  came from companies creating a global presence through mergers & acquisitions that didn’t involve much strategic vetting of the wastes they are taking on or even the quality of the deposits they were acquiring.

In 2002, just as Vale acquired the 3 mines of which Dam 1 was a part, Davies, Martin & McRoberts wrote:

“Design practice in many mining regions has in fact discounted the possibility of the mechanisms and criteria for this failure mode, the possibility of its occurrence has often been overlooked in the search for other causes of failure.

The simplistic view is that by defining the friction angle and pore pressure of the sand, we can predict the strength of that sand, the drained strength. The exception these references allow for is sands during an earthquake when the sand may become ‘liquefied.’ Clays on the other hand are deemed to be cohesive and have an undrained strength. Those readers who have benefited from a more enlightened geotechnical education may not find this a credible proposition, but it is clear to the authors that even as we enter the 21st  century, a range of educators, regulatory and quasi-governmental groups, and an alarming number of geotechnical consultants still have not un-learned their first series of lectures in soil mechanics based on textbooks expounding the views noted above. Until these simplistic models have been un-learned by all involved with the design, licensing, and construction of tailings impoundments, a major contributor to failures, i.e. inappropriate and incorrect designs based upon a lack of understanding of the tailings strength, will continue. ” (emphasis added)

Davies, McRoberts, Martin ( 2002)

In late summer 2018, just months before the Dam 1 failure, Dr. Morgenstern wrote:

From a technical perspective, it is of interest to note that inadequate understanding of undrained failure mechanisms leading to static liquefaction with extreme consequences is a factor in about 50% of the cases. Inadequacies in site characterization, both geological and geotechnical, is a factor in about 40% of the cases. Regulatory practice, considered appropriate for its time and place, did not prevent these incidents. However, the most important finding is that the dominant cause of these failures arises from deficiencies in engineering practice associated with the spectrum of activities embraced by design,construction, quality control, quality assurance, and related matters. This is a very disconcerting finding.” Morgenstern, The Melo Lecture August 2018

It is in this dark crevasse of “unknowing” that Córrego do Feijão Dam I matured to the 5th largest failure ever in recorded history, based on what we have now as deaths, runout, and release.

Dam VI , which is among the 17 that failed its stability re certification, iis the pool of water in the foreground. The fully disgorged Dam I is the big black hole beyond that.

Most of the underlying failure conditions at Brumadinho already existed when Vale  acquired in 2001.  Vale just followed suit with past practices for at least the next 5 years.  An awareness of critical issues, especially the drainage issues and the eroded  unstable beach  conditions emerged post 2006 but there was no systematic commitment to the identified fixes and changes needed in operations. The TSF had a scheduled end of life of 2016  and in 2013 less than 800,000 in capacity remained and Vale was on the hunt for tailings capacity to meet its goal of doubling production by 2023 so Dam 1 just counted itself out of serious attention by not furthering that goal.   No fixes were planned.  They simply stopped depositions and were pursuing  a re mining plan at Dam1  as  a revenue generating “de commissioning” or even possible sale.  They had obtained an expedited permit  for the re mining just before failure.

My advocacy for a few years now has been for  a competently staffed adequately  mandated Tailings Board similar to how a Buildings Department works.   It would have special authority in the event of an impaired dam , especially one at risk of failure by static liquefaction, to  essentially take custody of the dam to insure immediate  competent expert attention to its de risking and stability. The $1 bn it may have cost to solve the Brumadinho’s problems is far less costly to civil society than the $13 bn it is trying to grab now for clean up. According to an inquiry from Deutchebank on what are realistic costs ,Vale is seeking a total $1bn for all 5 dams it had been directed to de commission.    These dams can’t be immediately de risked or decommissioned for anything like $200M each.   The work at these 5 dams must be determined by experts and they must have what they need no matter what the cost.

All would agree, this is no way to govern mineral resources and no way to provide a sustainable supply of world minerals. It will be disastrous if Brazil allows the response to the impaired at risk dams to proceed under Vale’s control especially having grabbed $13bn for clean up on the one that already failed. I am advocating emergency authority to create a sort of “protective custody” and informed oversight  and authority and funding to act as needed to properly de risk or  de commission those 17 dams which failed their stability re certification.  Brazil law already provides for absolute liability regardless of effect on stock holders and investors.  It already has the mechanism to finance what needs to be done on those dams.

For more on the Brumadinho and static liquefaction follow the unfolding narrative at

About lindsaynewlandbowker

Bowker Associates, Science & Research In The Public Interest, is an independent non profit providing self initiated pro bono analysis on key issues with a potential for massive adverse environmental impact . Bowker Associates has been an internationally recognized and cited voice in analysis of the Samarco failure, its consequence, and the possibilties for recovery. In 2017 we partnered with Daveid M. Chambers, a world leader in responsible mining, in our third joint work on the economics of tailings failures. Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. In the Dark Shadow of the Supercycle Tailings Failure Risk & Public Liability Reach All Time Highs. Environments 2017, 4, 75. A peer reviewed journal published investigation of the cowboy economics of the supercycle and the resulting escalation on the number and magnitude of catastrophic failures. In 2016 we parnered with Dave Chambers in our 2nd joint work together looking at root causes of failures at a conference . Bowker, L.N.; Chambers, D.M. Root Causes of Tailings Management Failures: The Severity of Consequence of Failures Attributed to Overtopping 1915–2015. In Proceedings of the Protections 2016, Fort Collins, CO, USA, 14 June 2016. [Google Scholar] In 2015 Bowker Associates collaborated with geophysicist David M. Chambers to recompile global authoritative accounts of significant TSF failures in recorded history and to analyze these data in the context of global mining economics 1910-2010 ( Risk, Economics and Public Liability of TSF Failures, Bowker/Chambers July 2015) The third annual update of this globally referenced and used compilation was just released at Researchgate. ( In 2014 Bowker Associates commissioned globally respected geophysicist and hydrogeologist Dr. David Chambers to undertake two technical works: (1) development of technical go no go criteria for vetting mine applications tp:// and (2) a case study of Maine's Bald Mountain, an un mined low grade high risk VMS deposit demonstrating the efficacy and accuracy of two risk assessment tools in vetting mine proposals In Maine, Bowker Associates has deeply engaged and been a public voice in the Searsport DCP LPG Tank, The Cianbro proposal for a Private East West Toll Road, JD Irvings rolling pipeline of Bakken crude to its plant in St. John and review of Phase II plans at The Callahan Superfund site in Brooksville, Maine, and Maine's revisitation of mining in statute and regulation... Our only “client”: is always “the pubic interest”. Our model is to focus on only one or two issues at a time so that we have a substantive command of the relevant field as our foundation for ongoing engagement. Our core work is in envirommental risk management, science and technology as well as bringing any available “best practices” models to the fore. The legal and regulatory history/best models are also a major thrust of our work in building and evaluating public policy. Director/Principal Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM is a recognized expert in Environmental Risk Management., Heavy Construction Risk Management and Marine and Transit Risks and has more than 3 decades of engagement in buiding public policy. Appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to New York State Banking Board (served 1986-1996); President New York Chapter Chartered Property and Casualty Insurers; Environmental Committee, Risk and Insurance Management Society; Director, Convenor/Co-Chair Bermuda Market Briefing "From Captive to Cats" Hamilton Bermuda. Published Articles of Significance The Risk Economics and Public Liability of Tailings Facility Failures, co-authored with David M. Chambers, July 2015 Beyond. Polarization: Superfund Reform in Perspective, Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control (Jan. 24, 1997). Lead Hazards and Abatement Technologies in Construction: A Risk Management Approach CPCU Journal 1997 Employee Leasing: Liability in Limbo Risk Management June 1 1997 Environmental Audit Privilege and the Public interest Risk & Insurance Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Cost Control, April 1997 Asbestos:Holes In Abatement Policies Need To Be Plugged, Lloyd’s Environmental Risk International, May 1993 Editor Published Letters Evironmental Risk Management Beware of Facile Policies Like Fetal Protection Business Insurance 1995(?) High Court Review May Increase Sale of Bank Annuities Business Insurances August 8, 1995 Professional Profiles Protecting the Big Apple’s Core Managing Risk For Loss Prevention & Control December 1996 Major Career Highlights First rigorous analysis showing Relationship Between declining ore grades and TSF Failures of increasing consequence ( July 2015) FIrst Documentation that Gentrification Has Same Impacts as Unassisted Displacement from Urban Renewal Sites Direted Court Ordered EIS of FHA Mortgage Scandal Created Nation's First Homeownership Program for Low Income People (SHIP) Created Earliest Geographic Information Systems Using Defense Technology Developed By IBM Designed and Conducted Parallel Census Count to Show Systematic undercount in minority neighborhoods Documented Bias in ISO Territory Rating Plans for Private Passenger Auto Insurance Using ISO's own Rating Techniques Demonstrated Inherent Bias in Mortgage Policies of Banks With Inner City Branches Demonstrated that NY Telephones Plan for Area Code Split To accommodate anticipated cell phone demand was not efficient and would exhaust in 5 years ( which it did) Undertook First Systematic Evaluation of Child Protective Services Caseload Using Multi Variate Analyic Techniques Developed Child Protective Caseload Management and Tracking System (CANTS) and directed implementation in 4 client states including Illinois, Florida and New York Created and Ran Office of Risk Management for NYC DEP the Nations largest Water & Sewer Authority . Designed, Created and Administered Nation's First Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP)for High Risk Tunneling Education Masters NYU Graduate School of Public Administration BSC New School For Social Research Maine Public Schools Deering High School
This entry was posted in Brumahindo Dam Failure, Factor of Safety, Lindsay Newland Bowker, static liquefaction, TSF Stability Assessment, Uncategorized, Vale SA., World Mine Tailings Failures. Bookmark the permalink.

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