Articles | Volume 21, issue 1
Research article
07 Jan 2021
Research article |  | 07 Jan 2021

Modelling the Brumadinho tailings dam failure, the subsequent loss of life and how it could have been reduced

Darren Lumbroso, Mark Davison, Richard Body, and Gregor Petkovšek

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Cited articles

Agurto-Detzel, H., Bianchi, M., Assumpção, M., Schimmel, M., Collaço, B., Ciardelli, C., Barbosa, J. R., and Calhau, J.: The tailings dam failure of 5 November 2015 in South-East Brazil and its preceding seismic sequence, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 4929–4936,, 2016. 
ANCOLD – Australian National Committee On Large Dams: Guidelines on risk assessment, published by the Australian National Committee on Large Dams, Tatura, Victoria, Australia, 2003. 
Assaf, H. and Hartford, D. N. D.: Physically-based modelling of life safety considerations in water resource decision-making, World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, 20 to 24 May 2001, The Rosen Plaza Hotel, Orlando, Florida, USA, 2001. 
Azam, S. and Li, Q.: Tailings dam failures: A review of the last one hundred years, Geotechnical News, December 2010, 50–53, available at: (last access: 27 March 2020), 2010. 
Bingham, E. C.: An investigation of the laws of plastic flow, Bull. Bureau Standard., 13, 309–353,, 1916. 
Short summary
A tailings dam is an earth embankment used to store the waste from mines, known as tailings. In 2019, the Brumadinho tailings dam in Brazil failed, releasing a mudflow which killed ~ 300 people. This paper details the use of an agent-based model to estimate the risk to people downstream of this dam. The agent-based model represents each individual person. The modelling indicated that if a warning had been issued as the dam failed, the number of fatalities could have been reduced.
Final-revised paper