(Recasts with mine closure, adds Feam, mining company comments, details)
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Minas Gerais state government halted production at Mineracao Rio Pomba Cataguases’ bauxite mine at Mirai after a rejects dam burst early on Wednesday, said a state environmental agency (Feam) spokesman.
Mineracao Rio Pomba Cataguases, one Brazil’s two refractory bauxite producers, is owned by industrial group Industrias Quimicas Cataguases. It produces 1.15 million tonnes a year of refractory bauxite, used by water and other industries.
"The mine has been shut by the state’s vice governor, the state environmental secretariat and Feam pending conclusion of an investigation into the accident," the spokesman said, adding that it will probably stay shut until a containment dyke has been built.
Rio Pomba spokesman Domingos Ciribelli said that the mine in the eastern part of Minas Gerais, was medium sized and supplied bauxite for the primary aluminium industry and for the production of aluminium sulphate used by the water treatment industry.
Feam provisionally estimated that 2 million cubic meters (70.6 million cubic feet) of mud arising from bauxite-washing flooded into the nearby river and surrounding area when the 30-meter (98-feet) high dam burst.
"This is not toxic mud but it is a very large quantity, which causes considerable problems," the Feam spokesman said.
"Indications are the accident occurred due to higher than normal recent rainfall," the Feam spokesman said.
It was still unclear late on Wednesday how many people had been affected by the spillage, which occurred in an area of low population density, he said.
Rio Pomba’s Ciribelli said that apart from the Feam team, a group of independent engineers have been called to the mine.
"Efforts are already underway to build a containment dyke," he said, adding that in March 2006 the dam had also suffered a minor leakage due to a technical fault, an incident also confirmed by Feam.
Ciribelli dismissed local radio reports that 5,000 local inhabitants had been forced to flee their homes.
"That is untrue, a media exaggeration," he said. "So far we have been informed of four houses that were evacuated in Mirai, which is the only town to have been affected."