In DepthNATURAL DISASTERS

Mud tsunami wreaks ecological havoc in Brazil

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Science  04 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6265, pp. 1138-1139
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6265.1138

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Summary

On 5 November, a dam holding approximately 50 million cubic meters of waste from iron mines burst withoutwarning near the city of Mariana in Minas Gerais state. The disaster spawned a mud tsunami that buried villages downstream, killing at least 13 people. Within a day, the wave reached the Doce River and traversed 600 kilometers—snuffing out aquatic life in its path—before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean on 21 November. A network of scientists, backed by crowdfunding, is analyzing river samples to assess the environmental impacts independently of the government and the mining companies that managed the dam. One controversy they hope to settle is whether the sludge was laced with two dozen heavy metals, including arsenic, copper, and mercury, and whether such toxic contamination will persist, delaying recovery.

  • * * in Espírito Santo, Brazil. Herton Escobar writes for O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.