ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, has put an evacuation plan in practice for its dormant Serra Azul tailing dam in Brazil.
The company has discussed the situation with the local authorities and it was agreed that the 200-person community located downstream of the dam should be evacuated as a precautionary measure.
The action follows an updated site-based assessment of the tailings dam, commissioned by ArcelorMittal Mining and undertaken by the Independent Tailings Review Panel and follows recent incidents in the Brazilian mining sector. The assessment included stress tests on the Serra Azul pond, applying early observations available from the Feijao dam. Based on a safety evaluation, a decision was taken to evacuate all residents while further testing is undertaken. This historic failure-flow-path when the dam was active was approximately 4-5km.
The evacuation, claims ArcelorMittal, is purely precautionary. The community in question is situated 5km from the dam. The steelmaker concluded that 'absolutely no risk' can be taken and, despite the obvious disruption to the community, this is the right decision.
The community has been moved into temporary accommodation and will remain there while further tests are ongoing and until the security of the tailings pond can be 100% guaranteed.
"We apologise to the local community for the disruption; however, we know this is the right and, indeed, only decision that we could take and the authorities agreed," said Benjamin Baptista, CEO of ArcelorMittal Brazil. "We will endeavour to get people back in their homes as soon as possible, although at this point it is not possible to say when that will be."
Mr Baptista said that experts continue to analyse the tailings pond and that if measures have to be implemented to further secure the pond, they will be carried out as swiftly as possible.
Sebastiao Costa Filho, CEO Mining Brazil, commented: "Our absolute priority is to ensure our people and our communities are safe. We will be maintaining close communication with those affected to keep them updated about the situation."
The Serra Azul mine is located in Itatiaiucu, Minas Gerais State, in Brazil. It produces 1.2Mt of concentrate and lump ore.
The tailings dam, which is an upstream dam, has been idled since October 2012. It is the only such 'upstream' dam in the company's mining portfolio.