How to rebuild a Brazilian coastline with the mud that destroyed it

Residents of Mariana in Brazil are using mud to produce bricks and rebuild homes destroyed by a mudslide in November 2015.
Residents of Mariana in Brazil are using mud to produce bricks and rebuild homes destroyed by a mudslide in November 2015.


Several months after a mudslide devastated Brazil’s eastern coast in November 2015, Brazilians are discovering that the same mud can be used to rebuild. Since January, they’ve gathered tons of mud to produce bricks and reconstruct homes that were washed away.

The project is called ‘Tijolos de la Mariana’ – or ‘the bricks of Mariana’ – and is managed by residents from the town of the same name, in eastern Brazil. Mariana saw scenes of utter devastation when it was hit by a mudslide on November 5 last year. That day, two dams burst at the site of an iron ore mine, causing a giant avalanche of mud and waste from a mining operation to wash over the town. Iron, aluminium and manganese then spilled into the ‘Rio Doce’ river. The disaster is considered to be Brazil’s worst ever ecological catastrophe.

Now, a team of volunteers has rolled up their sleeves and put the mud to good use, by shovelling it up and using it to produce bricks stamped with the letter ‘M’ for Mariana. “The same mud that destroyed everything has allowed us today to rebuild, brick by brick,” reads the project’s slogan.

The goal: to make 1.2 million bricks

On its Facebook page, the project claims that bricks made from the mud are seven times stronger than traditional bricks. Its participants reckon to have already produced 1,200 of them since January. Their goal is to eventually start manufacturing bricks on an industrial scale, creating at least 80 jobs, and using the 700 tonnes of mud that burst through the flood barriers to create 1.2 million bricks.

Those behind the project say touching the mud or living in houses made from it doesn’t pose a health risk. Studies carried out by the environment ministry as well as local researchers have also shown that levels of iron and manganese in the mud aren’t high enough to be considered toxic to humans.

‘Tijolos de Mariana’ has already appealed for donations online. So far, the project has managed to raise 54,000 dollars, but that’s still far from the 400,000 dollars it’s aiming for. If you want to give a donation, you can contribute online by clicking here.


This article was part of our series Observers vs. Climate Change. To see the other stories in this series, click here.