decision unscientific, haphazard, and fraught with technical loopholes'
Experts Find No Scientific Basis for Rapu-Rapu Mine Re-opening
A four-person panel of
independent experts recently scrutinized the basis of the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR's) for allowing the resumption of
full commercial operations of the Lafayette mine in Rapu-Rapu, Albay and
found it "unscientific, haphazard, and fraught with technical loopholes"
at the very least.
The panel was convened
last February by the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils)
and is composed by four scientific and environmental experts who reviewed
and critiqued the reports that have informed the DENR's decision to reopen
the RRPI mine to full commercial operations: Dr. Carlito R. Barril,
retired Professor of Chemistry at University of the Philippines (UP) in
Los Banos, mining engineer Efren Favila, Dr. Emelina G. Regis, Director
for the Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research (INECAR) of
the Ateneo de Naga University and UP National Institute for Geological
Sciences research associate and geologist Ricarido M. Saturay, Jr.
During a forum
so-sponsored by CEC-Phils, nationwide scientists organization AGHAM, and
Defend Patrimony last March 22, the four experts identified major
deficiencies and inadequate action on four respective areas of immediate
concern, all of which were not considered in the DENR evaluation.
Mine Drainage (Dr. Barril, et al)
Biological Effects of Toxic Heavy metals (Dr. Regis)
Geological Hazards (Mr. Saturay)
Structures (Engr. Favila)
four issued separate reviews of various DENR documents evaluating the test
runs. Dr. Barril reviewed the Final Report of Carlos Primo c. David and
Rustica G. Romero on The Evaluation of RRPI's Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)
Abatement And Control Strategies. Mr. Saturay reviewed the 2006 Test
Run of the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project. Dr. Regis reviewed the
Evaluation Report of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), on the
Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project under the test run conditions (dated
Dec. 19, 2006).
These studies formed the
basis for Environment Sec. Angelo Reyes to issue a Permanent Lifting
Order (PLO) last February, despite vehement objections from Rapu-Rapu
folk, Church leaders, international non-government organizations (NGOs)
and environmental and peoples organizations.
the panel shortly after the DENR issued the PLO based on the test run
evaluation this February, and refused to approve requests from NGOs and
people's organizations to launch an independent probe in the mine site.
The experts noted various
technical inconsistencies as well as conceptual and methodological flaws
in the studies.
For instance, Dr. Barril,
who reviewed Dr. David's final report in terms of their objective, study
design, and how the study was carried out, reported, and discussed,
pointed out that there were "haphazard,
superficial and indiscriminate AMD prediction tests and in-situ
measurements, limited monitoring scope, sweeping concluding statements
that were inconsistent with the data presented, and premature and
"We find the study made by Dr. David
and his partner as unscientific, carried out haphazardly and
superficially, and fraught with technical loopholes and shortcomings, so
much so, that the results generated are not only so limited but also of
doubtful and unreliable quality," Dr. Barril said.
Saturay noted that the
test run evaluations also failed to take into account the geological
factors that may adversely affect land areas surrounding the mine site and
water supply systems, while Dr. Regis added that the studies do not take
into account the mining operation's projected effects on existing
bio-physical conditions in the small island's ecosystem.
Dr. Barril was taken aback
at the lack of technical expertise that the study displayed.
"Baka matapon ko lang
sa basurahan ang study na ito. Nakakahiya," (I would have thrown this
study into the trash can. It's shameful) he commented during the forum.
Acid Mine Drainage: the
All the experts concluded
that—contrary to the reports—Lafayette to date lacks the capability to
effectively manage, abate, and remediate the damage caused by Acid Mine
Drainage (AMD) in Rapu-Rapu.
Dr. Barril took note of
several deficiencies in the report, among these, the "lack of a clear
study design, lack of basic principles, absence of AMD's description and
control strategies, absence of an evaluation of AMD control strategies, a
faulty and indiscriminate AMD prediction study, and the absence of any
calculations of potential acid production".
He warned of the tendency
towards "cyclic acceleration" of AMD. "Once AMD starts, hindi na ito
mapipigilan dahil yung mismong produkto nito ay nagiging catalyst,"
(It cannot be stopped because the product becomes the catalyst.) he said.
Dr. Barril also warned
that millions of tons of acid are expected to be generated in the mine as
a result of AMD.
"Based on the results of
the static tests, one (1) kilogram of copper ore can potentially generate
more than 1 kilogram of acid," Dr. Barril said. And yet the studies
recommended that costly lime dosing technology and open limestone drains
to manage and neutralize AMD be discouraged.
AMD occurring in the
open-pit mine was also overlooked, Dr. Barril said. This is a dangerous
development as the pit will go down below the water table, he said. Mr.
Saturay estimated that the mine pit is expected to go as far down as 50
meters below the sea level.
Acid and toxic heavy
metals may reach the groundwater through cracks in the earth caused by
strong dynamite blasting, he added.
Toxic threats to life a
Next to AMD, Dr. Regis
stressed that the unmonitored and unregulated presence of physico-chemical
and trace metals (particularly toxic heavy metals) in the mining-affected
areas, waterways, and ground has an adverse effect on marine species and
will continue to pose a threat to marine and human life in the small
"The study failed to
consider that AMD dissolves metals lodged in the rock, such as cadmium,
zinc, copper, most of which pose health hazards to people and biota
(living organisms). For example, cadium, which is very high already even
in their monitoring, is a carcinogenic substance," Dr. Barril explained.
Dr. Regis agreed, noting that the monitoring and evaluation by the DENR
was only concerned about water testing and leaks, without including the
possibility of heavy metal contamination of soil and sediments.
The fish kills, diseases
affecting the community, and mysterious deaths among the island's marine
mammals are expected to dramatically rise once the heavy metals in AMD
takes its toll on the ecosystem. However, the DENR has failed to address
this problem, Dr. Regis said.
"The DENR said that the
documented deaths of marine animals could be addressed by monitoring the
water until its pH level normalizes. It also stated that the normal
condition of pH is achieved through lime dosing. But the problem is that
lime dosing only neutralizes acid. It does not neutralize the heavy metals
in water which causes toxicity and contamination," Dr. Regis explained.
Dr. Regis demonstrated the
danger of heavy metal contamination through sampling bio-indicators, or
living organisms that respond to particular environmental conditions. She
collected field samples from metal-affected weeds and grasses in Brgy.
Pagcolbon (a mining-affected area) and other Rapu-Rapu communities located
far away from the mine site.
An examination of their
cell structures revealed that metal-contaminated biota contained
significantly less starch and had their structures altered. "Wala nang
nutrients ang kinakain ng mga livestock, tulad ng baka, sa
mining-affected areas," (There were no more nutrients in the grass
eaten by livestock in mining-affected areas.) Dr. Regis said.
The heavy metals present
in mine tailings and AMD, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper,
lead, and zinc, can be threatening to life once humans and biota are
exposed to it in large amounts, Dr. Regis said.
Some effects of toxic
heavy metals on the peoples' health include increased risk for cancer,
kidney pneumonitis, osteomalaise, and hydrocephaly. While chromium, copper
and zinc are essential to the body in small doses, these are poisonous in
large doses, Dr. Regis said.
Dr. Regis denounced the
mine reopening as a "criminal offense" because of the long-term fatal
effects that it would cause to human life and to the ecosystem of
Dr. Regis also disputed
the DENR's claims that the Sorsogon fishkills and other fish kill
incidents near the mining site could not be attributed to the Rapu-Rapu
"Sorsogon is only 12
kilometers away from the mine site. In the Guimaras oil spill, debris
flowed as far as 200 kilometers away due to the habagat (southwest
winds) winds," she said, saying that the mine spill has brought about fish
kills, loss of livelihood, loss of potential tourists, and the diseases as
well. Contaminated tailings, mud, and silt flowing out to sea are killing
Rapu-Rapu's coral reefs, she added.
Dr. Regis and her team
also experienced repeated harassment by fully-armed men accompanied by
attack dogs and agents in civilian clothing while conducting the study.
They reportedly refused to let Dr. Regis' team any closer to the mine
When they were collecting
sea grasses, she recalled, the team also experienced harassment from
guards on two patrol boats and surveillance from suspicious-looking
"Nag-fifishing daw sila...kahit
umaalon," (They said they were fishing, even though the waves were
strong at that time) Dr. Regis commented.
A Disaster Waiting to
Saturay and mining engineer Favila warned of the potential disaster that
Rapu-Rapu would face if inadequate mine infrastructures and geologic
hazards were combined. Engr. Favila said that the RRPI mine lacks
important emergency infrastructures that are crucial to preventing another
disastrous mine spill. The studies also failed to consider geological
factors that may adversely affect land areas surrounding the mine site and
water supply systems, Mr. Saturay said.
Saturay warned that
Rapu-Rapu island's land composition, steep slopes, and rainy climate make
naturally predisposed to landslides. This threshold would be further
affected and significantly lowered by the massive earth movements caused
by the simultaneous dynamite-blasting and open-pit mining.
"Mining is a catastrophic
geomorphic event. Mabilis at malakihan ang pagbabago nito sa kalupaan.
Malapit ito sa bingit ng pagguho ng mga kalupaan. Anumang idadagdag sa
salik sa pagguho ay malamang hahantong sa higit pa o paglapit pa sa bingit
ng pagguho, o aktual na pagguho," (It could swiftly create major
changes in the land. As it is, the land here is already near its
landslide threshold. Any additional factor brings it closer to the
threshold or may actually trigger a landslide.) Saturay warned.
Saturay also noted that
studies on slope stability were conducted from rock samples inside the
mine pit. There were, however, no studies conducted from samples outside
the mine pit, where the mining-affected communities are located and would
be primarily affected in the event of any landslide-induced tragedy.
Saturay also expressed
concern over the effects of toxic metal contamination seeping into
Rapu-Rapu's limited freshwater supply.
Engr. Favila warned that
the mine still lacks emergency facilities that were crucial in preventing
more mine spills, such as a spillway and division wall.
"When RRPI started to
produce ores, it has no environmental infrastructures in place," Engr.
Favila said, “The RRPI management failed to ensure the construction of
emergency infrastructures for the tailings pond management system and
moreover, resorted to cost-cutting in the use of neutralizing reagents
used to treat cyanide.”
Engr. Favila attributed
the lack of crucial infrastructure to negligence on the part of the
company and the DENR's monitoring mechanisms.
AMD will also cause the
structural strength of the embankment structure to deteriorate, he added,
increasing the risk of breakage.
Engr. Favila warned that
previous mining tragedies, such as the Marcopper mine spill which killed
the Boac river in Marinduque, were also brought about by the lack of
Cancel PLO, experts
On the basis of the
existing studies' technical flaws, methodological shortcomings and
inconclusive results, the team strongly recommended a repeat of the DENR
study and the pursuit of more detailed studies on the RRPI's mining
operation in Rapu-Rapu.
"The results of the study
are inconclusive and unreliable and should not have been used as one of
the basis for lifting the suspension order," Dr. Barril said.
"Dapat mag-aral muna
Wala silang karapatang gumawa ng desisyon dahil wala silang alam," Dr.
Regis said of the issuance of the PLO. (The DENR should study it first.
They have no right to issue a decision because they do not know anything
about the issue).
"The deficiencies noted by
the experts indicate how RRPI and the DENR rushed the opening of the
Lafayette mine in Rapu-Rapu. This undue haste to open the mine to
commercial operations has put the lives of the island's residents and its
marine and terrestrial ecosystems into more danger than before,"
Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista, Jr. said.
Bautista stressed that
"the unremediated deficiencies and unresolved problems with the mine (such
as the lack of emergency infrastructure noted by Engr. Favila) practically
guarantees another mine spill".
"The people of Rapu-rapu
are living next to an environmental time bomb with the mine's reopening
and with the onset of AMD. We could be dealing with another environmental
disaster as large if not larger than the Marcopper tragedy in Marinduque
in the mid-90s," Bautista warned.
The experts also
recommended further study into the issue. Dr. Barril recommended a repeat
of the previous studies done, this time to be undertaken by a
"[More] detailed studies may
be exhaustive and expensive but it is a justified pre-requisite for mining
in a small tropical island with a significant population depending on the
island's limited resources," Saturay added.
Dr. Regis also urged the
RRPI's remediation of the Acid Mine Drainage now seen in waterways in
mining-affected areas. He also advised concerned citizens to demand that
company officials take responsibility and be held accountable for any
mining-related untoward incidents that may occur.
"No mining must ever be
allowed in Rapu-Rapu. The government must also rehabilitate the degraded
ecosystems, because they issued the PLO," Dr. Regis said. Bulatlat
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