Arsenic and mercury found in Brazilian river

Illegal levels of mercury and arsenic were found in the Brazilian river that suffered contamination from an iron ore plant where a dam burst occurred earlier this month.

This aerial view shows polluted water flowing from the Barra channel to the Barra beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This aerial view shows polluted water flowing from the Barra channel to the Barra beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image by Press Association

The dams burst on 5 November, killing 13 people to date (though more are missing), and contaminating Brazil's Rio Doce with a 9km toxic swell that is already reaching parts of the Atlantic as the pollution spreads. The damage to aquatic life was already known to be devastating, and soon it will be affecting marine life, particularly turtles that are indigenous to that part of the Brazilian coast. Reports from the Institute for Water Management in Minas Gerais show levels of arsenic ten times above the legal limit.

The plant's owners and mine operators Samarco had repeatedly said that the water and mineral waste unleashed by the dam burst were not toxic, according The New York Times. But a UN statement from Wednesday states that in fact the water from the plant shows high levels of toxicity.

The Brazilian state is suing Samarco for a preliminary $300 million.

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