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Brazil’s Pataxo depended on a river that’s now polluted with mud | Brazil News




Brumadinho, Brazil – A flock of black birds circled above a little stretch of land next to the Paraopeba river in eastern Brazil‘s Brumadinho, city in the state of a Minas Gerais. Its waters were dark orange and smelled like putrid fish.

“They’re vultures. It’s unbelievable,” 20-year-old Josiane Rosa, looking at the birds against the blue sky. Rosa is part of the Pataxo indigenous tribe.

The 82 people who live here used the Paraopeba river as their main source of food and water. But when the upriver Corrego de Feijao dam burst on January 25, it spilled nearly 12 million metric cubes of mine waste into the river and surrounding area, killing more than 100 people and wreaking havoc on the enviornment and community’s livlihood.

A helmet, which likely belong to a mine worker, flowed by. Tree logs, plastic debris and dead fish swirled in a whirlpool of thick brown water

“The smell is unbearable. Likely there’re body parts in there, what do we do if one washes up and our children find it? It’s infuriating,” Rosa said.

The Pataxo indigenous tribe used the Paraopeba river as their main source of food and water [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Angoho, the wife of the tribe’s chief, said her community will “never be able to eat fish here again”.

“Today when I got to the river and I saw some dead chickens floating by I wanted to jump in there myself, God forgive me,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s completely contaminated, they killed the river. It’s dead,” she said. 

Daily reports by the National Agency for Water report high quantities of heavy metals in the Paraopeba waters. These include manganese, iron, aluminium, nickel, lead, mercury, zinc, cobalt and even arsenic, among others.

According to the agency’s report from January 30, “the biggest violations were observed among the levels of lead and mercury … Values of up to 21 times the value of the class limit were recorded.”

The severity of the problem has pushed the UN’s expert on disposal of hazardous substances, Baskut Tuncak, to call for an impartial investigation into the disaster and into the toxicity of the waste. According to Reuters news agency, federal and state prosecutors have said they are seeking to file criminal charges.

Health authorities from Minas Gerais state have advised people to stay at least 100 metres away from the river. Most homes of the Pataxo are just at the 100 metre mark, but down the stream, many houses and villages are much closer to the contaminated mud.

More than 80 people live in this community [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

The community at Parque das Cachoeiras is one of the most affected. Some houses are just 10 metres aways from the mud and bodies were found nearby. The locals there have no water or electricity.

“The Paraopeba river was a great source of drinkable water,” said Hideraldo Buch, coordinator of Brazil’s National Committee for Hydrographic Basins. He told Al Jazeera the Brumadinho town used other resources and so its water supply wasn’t affected. “But the river supplied over 50 other countries with water, plus riverside villages and indigenous communities,” he added.

A bigger disaster looms

More than 200km downstream of the dam burst, the Paraopeba meets the Sao Francisco river. It flows through six Brazilian states, supplying water for millions of people, until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The flow of the sea of mud continues to spread several kilometers a day like a toxic train with no brakes towards the Sao Francisco and is expected to reach its mouth later this month. 

If contaminated by the polluted waters, “we’ll see another and much bigger environmental disaster”, Buch said.

Six days after the dam collapse, Vale, the company that owned the Corrego de Feijao mine, announced a contingency plan to stop the residues to reach the Sao Francisco river.

The company said it will monitor 210km of the Paraopeba river from the place where the toxic waste entered the stream up until where it reaches the Sao Francisco river. The company said it has started cleaning and dragging the heavy debris from the first 40 kilometres of the affected portions of the Paraopeba river. As of last week, the company had installed at least three “filter-like barriers” to prevent the clouded toxic waters from spreading.

“These barriers are installed from the surface of the water with the help of floats, all the way down to the river bed,” said Vale’s Environmental Licensing manager, Rodrigo Dutra de Amaral.

“It’s like a filter where the water passes but the residues are stuck,” Amaral told Al Jazeera in a statement sent by email.

But officials like Hideraldo Buch accuse Vale of acting too late and worry the mining giant will follow its record of empty promises.

Vale has yet to pay a fine of $100m, which includes compensation for the families of those killed or missing after the Mariana dam collapse that killed 19 people in 2015. This was considered the biggest environmental disaster ever in Brazil. The toxic muds from that accident irreversibly destroyed one of the most important rivers in Brazil, and when it reached the Atlantic Ocean, it killed scores of coral reefs. The company also never reached a conclusion on what happened during the 2015 incident, and executives that worked in Mariana were still working in Brumadinho at the time of the new collapse.

Health authorities from Minas Gerais state have advised people to stay at least 100 metres away from the river [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Vale’s president apologised to the victims on the day of this year’s disaster. Speaking to reporters a few days later, CEO Fabio Schvartsman said “everything will be taken care of”, referring to the company’s responsibilities on the environmental damage. But he added, “first we have to think about the victims and their families” to whom Vale has promised to pay $25,000 each.

Although Vale has repeatedly said the dam was monitored and approved by engineers just weeks before the disaster, a Reuters investigation found that the company knew the dam had a heightened risk of rupturing.

Since the disaster, Vale has rushed to suspend dozens of dams and increased the risk level on many others.

Local residents and officials blame not only Vale, but also the government. “We know the national policy on dam safety is loose, it gives the power to business owners to loosen licensing,” Buch said.

Hideraldo said he’s not against mining projects because they bring jobs and progress. Most of the mine workers in Brumadinho were local residents. 

“But we need stronger laws, more monitoring and planning,” Hideraldo said. “Let’s see what happens now, that more people died, maybe we can finally change the laws.”

The Brazilian government has created a special ministry council to monitor the situation. The country’s environmental agency fined Vale $66.5m for creating a “socio-environmental catastrophe”.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy also recommended “new criteria to perfect the control and monitoring system of dam safety” which includes a single-registry system for independent auditing companies. The government has stopped short at placing criminal blame on Vale for the collapse, but several federal and governmental officials have said that pending the result of the investigations, the matter might be treated as a criminal one.

Too late to apologise

Back in Brumadinho, the small riverine beach used by the Pataxos has now become a cemetery for the dozens of dead animals that wash ashore along with all kinds of rubbish. Workers hired by Vale roam the beach collecting the cadavers and trying to rescue any still alive.

Ana Cacilda Reis from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) said she’s already found “dead fishes, snakes, rodents, cows, chickens and even pets”.

Cacilda Reis said IBAMA’s main concern is to minimise the impacts of the disaster on the biodiversity, not only in the river, but also of the local flora.

The Brumadinho disaster is another blow to the survival of the rich forest, which is part of the Atlantic Forest, a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. The mud wiped out more than 290 hectares of land, including 147 hectares of green areas, according to the Secretary of State for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Officials have found dead fishes, snakes, rodents, cows, chickens and pets in the river [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

The massive and sudden deforestation along with the constant presence of the contaminated mud will bring serious health problems to the local populations.

“This mud will turn into dust that will cause breathing problems for the most affected communities”, said Marcus Vinicius Polignano, professor of medicine at Minas Gerais University, FMG.

The river is part of our family, a living being. So when people say no one died here, the river died. And we consider one of our own died.

Avelin, Pataxo tribe

Polignano told Al Jazeera some infectious diseases, normally contained inside the forested areas, can also threaten locals. “The most common is yellow fever.” he said, adding that “we are advising everyone to get vaccinated because there is a high risk of infection”.

However, what frightens Polignano the most are the problems the massive trauma will mean for the mental health of those affected. In a town where “everyone knows everyone”, he expects cases of depression and even suicide.

“The town’s gravedigger told me he never expected to bury so many of his friends. Can you imagine the impact of something like that?” he added.

Those affected by the tragedy can seek psychological help in one of the support centres set up by Vale, in the centre of Brumadinho. The company is also providing medical assistance, 1,600 liters of water, accommodations, phone services and food to those affected.

The Pataxos worry about how they’ll survive from now on, as they’ve become dependent on donations and foreign help for their basic necessities [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Pataxo tribe members lamented that it took Vale nearly a week to send any kind of food and water. And most say that the company must do more.

“Vale is very delusional if it thinks it can buy us with food or water. We are not pets,” said Rosa’s friend, Avelin.

“The river is part of our family, a living being. So when people say no one died here, the river died. And we consider one of our own died,” Avelin told Al Jazeera. 

The Pataxos worry about how they’ll survive from now on, as they’ve become dependent on donations and foreign help for their basic necessities.

“We will fight to have our river back, we will fight for our land because that’s what being indigenous means,” Rosa said. “We are born from this land. If God’s willing our children and grandchildren will see the river live again.”


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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day




The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat




In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic




TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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