The chances are you don’t remember what happened in Mariana, the Brazilian mining city last year. Here’s a quick reminder: Last November dams broke at an iron ore mine, spilling 60 million cubic meters of mud containing heavy metals into nearby community of Bento Rodrigues and the Rio Doce River. Along three-quarters of its 850-kilometer (528-mile) course, the formerly “Sweet River” became a toxic flow of residues of iron, lead, mercury, zinc, arsenic and nickel.
The accident cut off a quarter of a million people from clean drinking water. Then, after 14 days the red waters reached the Atlantic coast and flowed into the ocean, devastating the ecosystem on its path. The former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff dubbed the incident the worst environmental disaster in her country’s history.
Although the images of the dead river and its estuary tainted red by chemicals are dramatic, the case of Rio Doce isn’t a unique tragedy. The sad reality is that such spills are all too common: Rio Doce is everywhere.