MINING

Class action suit filed to suspend bauxite mining operations in Pará, Brazil

Local communities accuse Norway State-owned company of committing environmental crimes in Brazil

Bauxite mine in Paragominas is exploited by Hydro-owned company / João Ramid/Norsk Hydro

After several reports of spills and environmental violations, a local association of Indigenous and African-Brazilian communities (Associação de Caboclos, Indígenas e Quilombolas da Amazônia – CAINQUIAMA) filed a class action lawsuit with a federal court to order that Norsk Hydro-owned mining company Mineração Paragominas S/A stops its bauxite mining operations in the Barcarena area. The mine is located in the Miltônia Plateau in Paragominas, southeast Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Ismael Moraes, the lawyer representing CAIQUIAMA, argued that the petition is based on a scientific research conducted by the Geoscience Institute of the Geochemistry Laboratory of the Federal University of Pará, which found “highly contaminating radioactive substances with the bauxite” in the area.

The Norwegian state owns over 50% of Norsk Hydro, and Norsk Hydro owns Mineração Paragominas and Alunorte, two companies that operate in Pará. Both companies argue that the claims presented in the class action suit filed by CAIQUIAMA are “unfounded,” saying the study it mentions is actually “a geological description of how bauxite formed in the area” and does not include any links “between characterization of bauxite and its impacts on human health."

Third suit

Moraes explains that the class action asks the court to order Brazil’s National Mining Agency and the Ministry of Mines and Energy to revoke Mineração Paragominas' mining license for the bauxite field.

This is the third class action suit filed by the association against the same Hydro-owned company. According to CAINQUIAMA’s lawyer, the first suit was filed in 2017 and requested the suspension of its operations at a local dam, where there was a spill later in February 2018.

After an untreated wastewater spill in Barcarena, a second class action suit was filed in March this year to ask Hydro to pay for the lab exams for residents who were impacted by the contamination. The court ordered that the company should pay for the tests for 300 people who live in the area.

Major producer

According to Hydro, the Miltônia bauxite mine has a yearly output capacity of approximately 10 million metric tons.

In 2016, Hydro bought Vale’s remaining shares in Mineração Paragominas S.A. and became its only owner. According to a Nexo article, in 2010 the company had already bought Vale's stake in Alunorte, in Paragominas bauxite mines, and in aluminum manufacturer Albras. With the acquisitions, the Norwegian company became the only owner of the entire aluminum production cycle in Brazil.

History of violations

In February 17, residents reported a dam spill in Hydro Alunorte, but the company denied the incident. On the next day, city and state authorities found a secret pipe that was pouring red-colored water directly into the environment. A few days later, a survey by Evandro Chagas Institute confirmed that the local environment was being contaminated with untreated wastewater.

Authorities ordered the immediate suspension of the company's operations at the dam and recommended it should supply clean water to the communities that were directly impacted by the spill. A court ordered that Hydro Alunorte should reduce its industrial production by 50% and suspend operations at one of its dams.

Less than a month later, a task force found another secret pipe pouring untreated wastewater into the Pará River.

Edition: Diego Sartorato | Translated by Aline Scátola