Lepanto Mining Firm Not Environment-Friendly – UP Baguio, SLU scholars

For months now, Lepanto mining company is locked in a protracted labor strike by its employees. But there’s another issue raised by university-based doctors and scientists on the firm’s mining operations. Their findings of water samples take from river systems where the company’s mine tailings are allegedly dumped showed very high cyanide, chromium and lead.

By Kim Quitasol
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat.com

BAGUIO CITY – The mining company is not just anti-labor but also anti-environment.

Based on three studies presented last Aug. 24 at the Saint Louis University (SLU) here (246 kms north of Manila), the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s (LCMCo) mining activities have adversely affected the Abra River, including plants and people living near it. The studies were conducted by doctors, engineers, professors and students from SLU and University of the Philippines-Baguio (UP Baguio).

It may be recalled that the company’s workers are currently on strike due to a deadlock in the negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Water contamination

SLU Chemical Laboratory Officer-in-charge Engr. Josephine Dulay presented her study on the water quality monitoring of almost 20 sites of the Abra River, from Mankayan, Benguet and Santa, Ilocos Sur downstream. She said those samples were taken in October 2004 and February 2005.

Dulay disclosed that water samples taken from LCMCo’s Carbon In-pulp (CIP) Mill outlet, Tailings Dam spillway and at the Baguyos Bridge (the border between Benguet and Ilocos Sur) contained very high cyanide, chromium and lead. She said that water samples from LCMCo’s mill outlet contained 0.43 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of cyanide, way above the 0.05 mg/L allowed level prescribed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No. 34 of the Revised Water Usage and Classification/Water Quality Criteria.

She added that water samples from the sites are also acidic. She said that the same water sample registered 3.42 pH, lower than the allowed 6.5 to 8.5 pH of the same DENR order.

Moreover, Dulay stressed that the dissolved oxygen of the water samples at the same site was lower than the needed level for river bounties to survive. She said that the required dissolved oxygen for plants and fishes to survive is a minimum of 2.0 mg/L as mentioned in the DENR order but the sample registered only 1.98 mg/L.

Disruption in growth of onion roots

Results of the study conducted by UP Baguio Department of Biology Prof. Jocelyn Rafanan and Aldwin Almo on the effects of the water sample on the root growth of onions also known as the Allium Test showed growth inhibition and morphological effects.

Almo explained that the test showed disruption in the chromosomes of the onion roots that were planted on water samples taken from the same sites identified by Dulay. He added that the same effects identified on the onion roots could possibly happen to animals and human beings exposed to the water at the sample sites.

Rafanan said a correlation exists between the results of the chemical testing done by Dulay and the biological testing they conducted. She attributed the effects seen on the onion roots to the presence of cyanide and other chemicals and the low dissolved oxygen content in the water.

Rafanan explained that the Allium Test is an established protocol in determining the presence of chemicals and pollutants in soil and water, which may represent environment hazard. She added that it is also the cheapest process.

Residents’ health also affected

According to SLU College of Medicine Department of Preventive and Community Medicine Chairperson Dr. Ana Marie Leung, aside from the adverse effect on the river itself and plants thriving along its banks, LCMCo’s mining activities also cause harm on residents living along the river.

Leung said that residents of Paalaban, Paco in Mankayan, Benguet have significantly high levels of cyanide, copper and lead in their blood. In fact, she said, one resident was found to have toxic level of cyanide in his blood. These residents are exposed to LCMCo’s mine drainage through inhalation, immersion and non-intentional ingestion.

She explained that in a matter of time residents who are exposed to LCMCo’s mine drainage would have toxic cyanide levels in their blood because it accumulates through the years.

The said community is just behind LCMCo’s mill site, where residents inhale, ingest and have physical contact with the mine wastes the company is dumping to the river.

“If we cannot ensure the health and safety of the people, we should take concrete actions to address the root cause of the problem,” Leung stressed.

Leung conducted a two-year study on the health profile of three communities adjacent to LCMCo’s mining operations. Her research titled “Health Profile of Communities Living Near Corporate Mining Operations in Mankayan, Benguet” won the first prize in the Department of Health (DoH) National Research Forum in April 2004. Nordis/ (Bulatlat.com)

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