Fisherman's Favela and the Underwater Cave

Maria Vitória is 8 years old, with black skin and big almond-shaped eyes. With agile movements typical of a caiçara [borned in the coast] she enters and exits the fishing boats moored on her grandfather's stilt, pointing at one time a hidden baby crab, or a Barbie doll floating among the garbage in the almost immobile water under the house. “I always get toys that go with the flow,” she explains.

Granddaughter of fishermen, the girl says she does not know how to swim, although her backyard is the Casqueiro River, which divides the cities of Santos and Cubatão, on the coast of São Paulo. In addition to all visible pollution, the region was known in the past as the Valley of Death because it was considered by the United Nations (UN), in 1981, the most polluted city in the world. Today, the threat of a new environmental disaster is returning to the region. The reason: an underwater pit.

Started in 2017, the pit is a hole with a diameter larger than the Maracanã stadium and 25 meters deep, excavated by the company VLI Multimodal SA under the waters of the Santos estuary, an aquatic environment of transition between the river and the sea where locates the busiest port in Brazil. The place where the pit was built is called Largo do Casqueiro and belongs to the Union.

In itself, the work looks like an easy solution to house all the dredged sediment from the Piaçaguera channel, where the Luiz Antônio Mesquita Port Integrator Terminal is located, owned by the company Ultrafertil, but controlled by VLI, a company founded in 2010 by Vale to bring together all the mining company's cargo activities: transportation in railroads, terminals and ports.

The Piaçaguera channel flows into the Santos estuary. The work in progress seeks to deepen the channel, which is about 10 meters to 15 meters, allowing larger ships to reach the company's port.

With dredging, however, the removed soil brings up a long history of contamination. It is like a pollution timeline in the form of chemical layers sedimented by decades of industrial activity in the sand at the bottom of the channel. Among sedimented chemicals are highly toxic and carcinogenic components, such as ammonia, cyanide and mercury. VLI guarantees that the amount of toxics is low, but residents remain concerned.

In addition, the bidding process for the work, carried out by the São Paulo State Environmental Company (Cetesb), is the target of actions by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF). Expired and irregular licenses and even indications of administrative improbity by the regulatory agency and the VLI are part of the questions.

Continue reading on the website of Agência Pública.