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Braskem's Rock Salt Mine in Maceio: A Looming Collapse and its Consequences

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Saboor Bayat
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Braskem's Rock Salt Mine in Maceio: A Looming Collapse and its Consequences

The Braskem-operated rock salt mine in Maceio, Alagoas, remains under relentless monitoring due to its persistent collapse risk. Civil Defense images have revealed a deceleration in ground sinking, yet the progression of fissures and the enlargement of the wet area are visible. The Munda Lagoon seems to be encroaching on the dry mine area. As a result of decades of mining, over 14,000 properties have been evacuated in five neighborhoods, impacting approximately 60,000 people. The cessation of extraction activities took place only one year after the first earthquake in 2018. The area is monitored around the clock using images and equipment, recording 250 tremors in a single day. Despite a slower sinking rate, currently at 0.7 cm/h, the threat of collapse has not been eliminated. The region of Mine 18 has sunk by 1.69 m since monitoring commenced. Daily comparisons depict a reduction in the soil's movement rate. According to Civil Defense, a collapse would no longer pose a risk to the population as residential areas have already been evacuated. Braskem is executing a well closure plan, with 70% of actions already completed, and expects to finish the work by mid-2025. In the event of a collapse, the water of Munda Lagoon could turn saline, affecting the local ecosystem.

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Chronicling the Ground Sinking Saga

Due to inadequate exploitation, the geological process of soil subsidence in several neighborhoods of Maceio, the capital of Alagoas, has been traced back to Braskem's rock salt mines. The city is undergoing a slow process of ground sinking, causing various structural damages. Around 60,000 people have been compelled to abandon their homes and properties, with entire neighborhoods at risk of destruction, including Pinheiro, Bom Parto, Mutange, Bebedouro, and part of Farol. Braskem exploited 35 mines during the exploration period, and over time, some merged into cavities more than 100 meters wide. Improper rock salt extraction destabilized pre-existing underground caves and triggered fissures.

Massive Evacuation and State of Emergency

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On November 30, 2023, Maceio declared a state of emergency in the municipality for 180 days due to the imminent collapse of a Braskem mine in the Mundaú Lagoon area in Mutange neighborhood. An estimated 55,000 people have been affected since 2018, with 14,000 properties condemned in the five affected neighborhoods. The problems caused by the sinking, including environmental, social, and economic issues, are still under investigation. The plight of the residents has been compounded by an increase in the population of stray cats and mosquitoes, and some refusing to leave the risk areas.

Braskem's Response and Legal Battles

Although Braskem does not officially admit to causing the disaster, it has signed an agreement in the Alagoas courts, providing for the payment of over 12 billion reais to compensate residents and shopkeepers and relocate public facilities. A group of Maceió residents, represented by three law firms, has filed a lawsuit against Braskem in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, claiming that the compensation offered by the company does not cover all damages. On September 21, 2022, the Court ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case.

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