Subsequent to the break in a storage basin dedicated to discharge water from a paper recycling plant, 1.2 million m³ of highly toxic substances (including lead and caustic soda) spilled into 2 rivers. The layer of spilled products spread 90 km long and spanned 50 km² in the direction of the ocean, threatening an ecological reserve for marine turtles. A thick whitish and nauseating foam covered the north shore beaches of the country’s Rio State. The toxic and corrosive substances released caused the death of fish and cattle in addition to damaging fishing boat motors. Due to the risk of population intoxication, drinking water supply was curtailed in the region: 600,000 residents received potable water from tanker truck deliveries.
The site was closed, and the operator (already found guilty in 1995 on charges of pollution and illegal plant operations) was initially fined 15 million despite his attempts to flee justice. Impacts on the environment, human health and the economy were very severe. Biologists concluded that it would take at least 10 years for the ecosystem to re-establish its equilibrium.