Vale's Onca Puma ferro-nickel plant operates through court-ordered mine closure

martes 1 de diciembre de 2015 20:19 GYT

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK Dec 1 (Reuters) - Brazilian miner Vale is operating a nickel processing plant at the Onca Puma project, an Amazon mine where a court has ordered mining activities halted, the company's nonferrous metals chief told Reuters on Tuesday.

While the plant continues to process ore into ferro-nickel, Vale has stopped operations at the open pit mine where it obtains the nickel ores, Jennifer Maki, Vale's head of base metals, said on the sidelines of the annual "Vale Day" event.

Vale, the world's largest producer of nickel, has said in recent days it is in full compliance with the order to halt mining operations at the key nickel facility.

The Federal Public Ministry in Brazil's Para state (MPF) said on Friday the company had not been complying with the order from the Superior Justice Tribunal for more than a month but did not specify in what way.

It was not previously known that the processing plant was still operating, and while ferro-nickel processing is not a mining activity, it is not clear if the continued operation of the plant was what the MPF was referring to in saying Vale was violating the shutdown order.

The court order, from early October, said Vale had violated the mine's environmental license and polluted the nearby Catete River with heavy metals.

Indigenous groups in the area and the MPF both say birth defects in the Carajas region, where the mine is located, have been linked to toxins in waters near the plant.

The region has long been home to informal wildcat gold mining, an activity that has polluted waterways in Brazil's Amazon region with toxic chemicals such as mercury.   Continuación...