Riverside communities in Barcarena have been enduring the negative effects of pollution caused by aluminium mining for many years. Now, the affected population are forcing accountability on the European multinationals that are profiting from the pollution.
Around 11,000 families from the Brazilian state of Pará are seeking compensation for damage caused to the communities of Barcarena and Abaetetuba. Victims have been exposed to toxic residues from the processing of aluminium, which can cause health problems such as increased incidences of cancer, Alzheimer’s, skin diseases, stomach problems, and diarrhoea.
The Municipality of Barcarena and the neighbouring communities have suffered a large number of serious environmental disasters in the last twenty years that are a direct consequence of the activities of aluminium producers, including at least nine documented by the Brazilian government. The total number is noted to be much higher by the local communities.
For example, during one disaster in 2009, a deposit overflowed and red mud contaminated the Murucupi river. The levels of aluminium on the water were up to 73 times higher than normal and the levels of other dangerous elements on the river, such as cadmium (linked to several diseases including cancer) and copper (which can cause the death of fish), were also higher than the recommended by the Brazilian National Environmental Council – CONAMA.
Similarly, on 16 and 17 February 2018, a large amount of red sludge once more leaked, polluting several springs and rivers and putting residents at risk.
Rivers and artesian wells are the main source of water in the affected regions, which increases the dependency of the population on the river for their subsistence, leisure, and livelihood.
Among the claimants are a significant number of Afro-Brazilian Quilombolas, descendants of African slaves brought to Brazil, who escaped plantations, towns, and cities, and established quilombo settlements. Many depend on the waterways of the Amazon and its tributaries, with 1,831 officially recognised quilombo settlements in the Amazon, and 528 of those in the state of Pará.
Victims are claiming for material and moral damages arising out of violations of diffuse and individual homogeneous rights.