Braskem hinders relocation of families affected by tragedy in Brazil, making residents get sick

Residents at Maceió are coping with floods and cracks in the walls since the collapse of mine

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Maceió (Alagoas state) |
Cícera's family lives in fear of their house falling down after a crack appeared in the wall - Pedro Stropasolas

“Nobody wants to stay here. Why do I have to?” Arnaldo dos Santos asks summarizing the angst residents in the Bom Pastor neighborhood feel. That’s one of the areas affected by Braskem’s crime in Maceió, the capital city of Alagoas.  

Arnaldo, a nurse, lives in Beco do Sargento, part of the Bom Pastor neighborhood, about 1,8 km from mine Number 18, which was on the cusp of collapse in December last year, one of the 35 mines exploited by Braskem in Maceió. There, the families live exactly on the dividing line between what the Civil Defense considers or not a risky area subject to relocation due to ground sinking. The biggest environmental crime in an urban area in Brazil affects 20% of the Alagoas’ capital city.

“I would like to ask Braskem why this side here has rotten and there it didn’t happen?”, says Santos while pointing to the boarding Braskem put to demarcate the areas under risk of collapse. The remaining houses in the Beco area are less than a meter from the boarding.

The neighborhood’s residents still wait to be relocated and receive financial compensation from Braskem through the Financial Compensation and Relocation Support Program (PCF in Portuguese), a demand to be addressed since Brasil de Fato's first visit to the community about seven months ago.

According to Fernando Lima, president of the Bom Parto’s residents Association, the lack of income alternatives and the social vulnerability of the families living in the neighborhood increased during the first semester of 2024, while the reality of the families was only "brushed over" by the parliamentary commission of inquiry. Some senators traveled to Maceió on May 8, but did not visit Bom Pastor.

“[It was] An on-site visit to get a sense of the situation," explains Fernando Lima. "We still have almost 27,000 people in the neighborhood. Houses are cracking so much so that the water table is almost at street level,” he adds.

Houses near the Mundaú Lagoon have cracks like the one in the photo / Photo: Pedro Stropasolas

Braskem's contested expansion of the risk map

In the house of Cícera dos Santos, an elderly woman who shares around 30 square meters with her son, husband and autistic sister, the crack in the living room wall runs from the floor to the ceiling. "It starts up here, comes down, and is already down here," she points out.

Afraid to stay there, Cícera says she would have left the property if she had been given the choice. "I just want them to give us the right to have a small house somewhere else to live. That's all," she says.

The area where she lives in Bom Parto, on the banks of the Mundaú Lagoon, includes Beco do Sargento, Beco Diazepam, Nova Vila and Carroças Street. They were all included in the latest version of the Civil Defense Priority Action Lines Map, published in November 2023.


Latest Civil Defense update of the map risk of  the Bom Parto neighborhood area / Civil Defense / Nazura Santos/Brasil de Fato

The expansion of the map – which also comprehends families living on Marquês de Abrantes Street, in Vila Saém, and the Farol neighborhood – included 1,200 properties in the Civil Defense monitoring area and was carried out only after a public civil action filed by the Federal Public Defender's Office, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, and the Public Prosecutor's Office of the State of Alagoas.

The inclusion of these families in an area suitable for relocation, as well as financial compensation, however, was suspended by the Federal Regional Court of the 5th Region on January 22 this year at Braskem's request. Since then, the process has been at a standstill in the courts.

"In the case of the Bom Parto neighborhood, the situation is deteriorating faster. We have a case that has already been at the trial court and is currently at the appellate court without the slightest prospect that it can be resolved so that 15% of the neighborhood can be relocated," says Fernando Lima.

"We managed to get in touch with a private law firm, where we are filing a lawsuit for relocation, compensation and moral damages because through the official way – the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office – our lawsuit has stalled. For how long will we wait?" he adds.

Bom Parto at the Braskem inquiry

Asked by the parliamentary commission of inquiry (known in Brazil as CPI) investigating Braskem if Bom Parto’s residents will have to live for decades in cracked buildings that put people's lives at risk, Marcelo Arantes, Braskem's Global Director of People, Communication, Marketing and Media Relations, stressed that the families do not need to be relocated and that "these areas are regularly monitored by the municipal and national Civil Defense and by a Braskem technical team.”

Arantes pointed out that requalification works are being implemented in the region, and around BRL 1.7 billion (US$ 316,1 million) will be invested in socio-economic and urban measures. But the Civil Defense is the agency responsible for demarcating areas for relocation, and Braskem has always been diligent in complying with these determinations.

In the petition that supports the request to suspend the expansion of the risk map, Braskem justifies that "for a series of anthropological, social, urbanistic and economic reasons, a community should not be removed from its original home, except in the absence of any other option.”

When asked by the senators of the commission of inquiry why Braskem contested the inclusion of 1,200 properties belonging to families living in the Bom Parto region, the mining company said the "damage to the properties associated with the subsidence phenomenon" is no longer a reason to relocate the families, according to the most recent Civil Defense report.

The families living in the Bom Pastor neighborhood, in Maceió, are just 1,8 km from the mine Number 18, whcih collapsed uin December 2023 / Photo: Pedro Stropasolas

For this to happen, according to the company, it is necessary to have "soil movement, even if minimal.”

The "minimal" soil movement, however, was confirmed at the CPI by the testimony of Abelardo Pedro Nobre Júnior, the general coordinator of Maceió's Civil Defense. He confirmed that the properties on the banks of the Mundaú Lagoon that have cracks in the walls are being monitored according to the latest version of the map, as it is a place that records "soil movement of 5mm to 10mm per year.”

According to Júnior's statement, what is not known is whether "these pathological manifestations correlate" with industrial activity at Braskem's mines, which is why the area "needs to be studied.”

Historical problem?

Still about the cracks on the walls and floods in the region, the representative of Maceió Civil Defense told the commission of inquiry that these issues were not related to the environmental disaster, but to a "historical" problem families living in the surrounding areas of the Mundaú Lagoon face.

Fernando Lima disputes this view. "The living conditions have always been difficult, but with the event [ground sinking], with this social genocide, the conditions have become subhuman," he says.

The flood situation, according to families that live neighboring the Mundaú Lagoon, became even more serious after the ground sank more than 2 meters in the area of mine Number 18 in December.

"The water took everything. I have nothing left. I have my mother, my brothers and my daughter," laments José Roberto dos Santos, who moved in with his mother, Cícera, after the flood.

While Braskem and the Civil Defense give their justifications and propose monitoring and "studying" the region, the families of Bom Parto are sick living in cracked houses susceptible to flooding.

Boarding in the Bom Pastor neighborhood demarcating the areas considered at risk of sinking and those that are not  / Pedro Stropasolas

"The population urgently needs to be relocated. Ever since the mine problem came up, Bom Parto’s residents have had no peace. All they can think about is disaster. Many people are depressed and anxious. Most of the elderly are sick," explains Paulo de Oliveira, a resident of the neighborhood and one of the four garbage collectors working in the community.

"We need to get out of here. There's a lack of security and sanitation. People here are left with cockroaches. That's my appeal," he added.

The population also complains about the lack of janitorial services, which should be Braskem’s responsibility. Brasil de Fato saw debris from demolished houses, open sewage and garbage piled up around evacuated areas. Residents take it in turns to clean up the site.

"I studied, my father educated me. He gave me strength to work, but today I live full of germs. You can show the people: there's germs here in this water, taking out the garbage. Look around and you'll see what is happening here," laments Arnaldo dos Santos, showing his two injured feet. 

"The people at Bom Parto aren’t dogs. I have two beautiful kids and I can't give my children anything else. I used to earn BRL 200 (US$ 37) a day here," says Arnaldo, whose income to support his two kids today is only what he earns from the Family Grant program (known in Brazil as Bolsa Família).

The commission’s final report

Published on May 15, the final report of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on Braskem held the company responsible for environmental crimes such as "ambitious mining" and indicted 11 people, including the company's vice president, Marcelo de Oliveira Cerqueira.

The text by Senator Rogério Carvalho (Workers’ Party) also calls for the restructuring of the Civil Defense risk map and the revision of compensation agreements for affected families, also considering the risk of economic isolation in areas such as Flexais, in the Bebedouro district.

Although the final report proposes the removal of Bom Parto’s residents and considers the CPI's outcomes a "milestone", the assessment of the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM, in Portuguese) is that there is still a long way ahead for the agreements to be fulfilled.

"When the parliamentarians came [to Maceió], they didn't visit Bom Parto. They went to Flexais [one of the neighborhoods affected by Braskem] after a lot of pressure. They walked through some streets and went into some houses. And the situation in the Bom Parto neighborhood is a very precarious and dangerous one. You see houses with crooked walls that can fall at any moment, cracks from the floor going up to the wall. The people have nowhere to go," explains Carlos Eduardo Lopes, a researcher, photographer and MAM activist.

"The report is there, over 600 pages long. How long will it take for justice to be done, for people to have their desire to relocate met?" he asks.

Residents see the absence of the parliamentary commission in Bom Parto and the failure to resolve the neighborhood's problems are seen as an act of class prejudice. "I consider it segregation, a real prejudice against the Bom Parto community, just because it's a slum, because it's in poor social conditions. That's what we think," Fernando Lima concludes.

Edited by: Thalita Pires