Asphalt and cave mining could increase accidents, experts say

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The increase in mining and asphalting activities in regions of caves and grottos, authorized by a decree signed by President Jair Bolsonaro on the 12th, could facilitate occurrences such as landslides and degradation in these areas, according to experts consulted by the Ministry of Health. CNN.

The main point of attention of the decree, according to the authorities in the area, is that it provides that public utility projects, such as mining and road construction, can affect caves classified as of maximum relevance, previously preserved from these activities.

“Caves that are not protected by law, that are not included in conservation units, but are legally preventing the development, will now be affected”, says Roberto Cassimiro, geologist and president of the Brazilian Society of Speleology (SBE), which is dedicated to the study of underground geological formations.

These caves, as environmentalists explain, feed or preserve underground water courses, keep unique animals and may have great paleontological and archaeological relevance, with rare deposits of materials of interest to these areas of study.

Mining work that is defined as being of public utility, based on what the new decree allows, could impact these activities.

The Brazilian Mining Institute (IBRAM), which brings together some of the companies in the sector, sees the decree as “a modernization of legislation on cavities in the country”, mentioning “scientific and technological advances observed in the area in recent years”, which allow the advance in exploring these areas.

According to a statement from the association, the text “has the potential to unlock investments in structuring projects in various areas, such as highways, railways, transmission lines, hydroelectric plants, waterways, mining and oil activities, which will help the country to rediscover the path of development”. in harmony with the preservation of the national speleological heritage.

Opening and maintenance of roads

Another possibility is that roads will be built on or near caves of maximum relevance, which can put the formations at risk.

Before the decree, if the maximum relevance of the cave had been proven through studies, a highway designed in the region would have to divert the route, which will no longer be accurate, says Cassimiro.

“No entity or research group was consulted to change the law. We are not against entrepreneurship, but that it is done in a sustainable way”, said the president of SBE.

One of the areas that could be affected is Toca da Boa Vista, the largest cave in the Southern Hemisphere, which is located in Bahia and has about 115 km of galleries. With the change in the law, the region over the cave will be able to receive developments, says Cassimiro.

The expert also states that the cave is in an environmental conservation area, whose name is not enough to prevent the advance of potentially destructive economic activities, which would allow interference in the region.

Also in Bahia, the paving of a highway can cause irreparable damage to the largest underground lake in the country, Lago do Cruzeiro, with more than 12 thousand square meters of surface and an average width of 60 meters.

The road passes over the cave and increases the risk of collapse if the pressure on the area is increased with the application of asphalt and the increase in the flow of trucks. Therefore, the SBE proposes to remove the flow from the region and move it to the surroundings, without having to pass over the galleries, even if the route increases from 10 to 15 km.

“With the new decree and the asphalt paving of BR-135 (where the Lago do Cruzeiro cave is located), in the stretch of ground in the municipality of São Desidério, Bahia, the region, which has some caves of maximum relevance, could be affected. ”, warns Cassimiro.

The Tamburiu-Unaí cave, in the west of Minas Gerais, close to the Federal District, is another region that could be impacted by the change in the law.

“There is a mining project that did not progress because geophysical studies proved that the detonations could affect the cave. Now, you can affect it and it no longer has the same rigor of law”, he explained.

In addition to mining companies and construction companies, some beverage companies, which exploit water reserves in these caves and nearby regions, may benefit from the new decree.

Faced with the changes, there may be, in addition to the disturbance of the local fauna and flora, the contamination or the drying up of water courses and even the collapse of structures, said the expert.

He understands the change as “an unprecedented setback in environmental policy, which will irreversibly affect the speleological heritage”.

The professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP Pedro Côrtes says that the flexibility of the legislation can increase accidents in these structures.

Deregulation can favor the increase of tourism in sensitive regions if there is a perception by local authorities that visitation promotes the local economy, and therefore is in the public interest, which would allow an increase in the flow of people in risky regions. .

“Without a doubt, the risk of collapse increases as the flow of people increases, and these accesses are not always controlled. People can naively venture out imagining that there is no problem”, points out Cortês.

For Marcus Nakagawa, ESPM professor and sustainability specialist, “the risk of landslides will increase” if there is no strict control of activities in the regions.

He also highlights the danger of frequent interference in the habitat of species that are responsible for the spread of diseases, such as bats, which are being linked to the appearance of new diseases, such as Covid-19.

“There are more dangers than positive aspects to this decree,” says Nakamura. “With no investment for control and audit teams, the risks increase. And for interests that are sometimes only commercial, areas are released without these steps being carried out”, says Nakagawa.

exploration without destruction

The relaxation of environmental legislation tends to favor a small group of companies, according to Clayton Lino, president of the National Council on UNESCO’s Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve, when there could be another type of economic gain in the most important cave regions.

“The caves in Vale do Ribeira, Caverna do Diabo, are economically exploited, provide an economic base for a region, and generate resources for an entire community. It’s not about economics versus conservation. It has caves that keep water and are fundamental mainly for this reason”, he says.

Furthermore, initiatives in the construction and mining sectors do not necessarily have to be environmentally degrading. The Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve institute has a ten-year partnership with Votorantim Cimentos that has managed to protect hundreds of caves in areas of the Atlantic Forest.

According to Clayton, who participated in some of the initiatives, the projects not only reduced the risks of environmental degradation but also reduced the company’s costs related to environmental processes.

In Spain, where Votorantim also operates, a cave with fossils of bear and human ancestors was at risk because of the company’s mining work. With the preservation work, the cave and its heritage were preserved, without interdicting the mining work.

“There was a huge conflict, but the cave was protected, it’s even an important attraction for the region’s economy”, explains Clayton.

In Brazil, the area of ​​caves in Sobradinho, near Brasília, where mining is also carried out, underwent an in-depth study, which identified the caves in the region and delimited a protection area.

“It is important even for mining itself. Because, if a cave is later discovered, it is embargoed and it costs the company enormously”, he explains.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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