Catastrophic Failure

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It all began on November 5, 2015, with the collapse of a dam near an iron-ore mine in Brazil. That’s when a river of toxic sludge came bursting forth; a stew of mud and mining waste that cost more than a dozen lives, many more injuries, and widespread environmental devastation. Catastrophic Failure, a new expose produced by ABC Australia, investigates the ominous series of events which precipitated and followed this disaster.

The flood emanated from the Fundao tailings dam, which held more than 50 million meters of waste from a nearby mine operated by corporate giants BHP Billiton and Vale. After it rolled through and devastated every home and structure in its path, it flowed into the Rio Doce river, effectively destroying all fish and severely contaminating the area’s water supplies. From there, the sludge eventually seeped into the Atlantic Ocean.

The film introduces us to survivors of the flood, many of whom were carried along by its brute force. They carry the burdens of their wounds, haunting memories of chaos and peril, and of their inability to save the loved ones they lost. The search continues for missing persons, and hundreds of residents remain homeless. Paradoxically, the mine served as one of the area’s largest employers, therefore its closing has rendered additional economic instability to an already ravaged people.

They’re not only fighting for their continued survival but for someone to be held accountable for the biggest mining disaster in Brazilian history. To what extent should the mining corporations be held responsible for this event? Environmental activists and some investigators argue that the disaster was entirely preventable, and warning signs of impending doom were ignored. For their part, BHP and Vale have pledged their commitment to the recovery of each affected community, but have yet to claim direct responsibility. Where does the truth lie?

This devastation was caused by the collapse of just one in a trio of similar dams, and its failure has served as a precautionary prelude to what many believe is the inevitable collapse of the other two. That lends an added urgency to this powerful investigative documentary.

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