By RITCHE T. SALGADO
CEBU CITY — Engineer Vic Obando, his wife and three daughters wake up every morning knowing that every second of their life, they are breathing in toxic chemicals that may cause a myriad of illnesses.
Coal Ash disposal site. (Contributed photo)
Obando, a retired employee of the National Power Corporation, lives within the 15-kilometer radius from a 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Naga City, Cebu. What’s worse is that with the power plant’s lack of facility to contain the highly toxic coal ash, a byproduct of coal, it found a novel idea of distributing it to residents as building materials and even to be used in government infrastructure projects as filling materials.
In fact, Obando claims that some of the coal ash generated by the power plant has been used in building the city’s new public plaza and boulevard – a venue for big events in the city, attracting thousands of locals as well as residents from neighboring cities and municipalities.
In 2005, Obando, together with other residents of Naga City tried to block the building of a new facility that is expected to generate an additional 200-megawatt power. They lost the fight, but with that, they were able to arouse the residents of Naga City, and are now active in continually opposing the building of the said plant. The group is also looking into the questionable purchase of a 25-hectare beach lot property by the provincial government of Cebu. The property is to be used as the dumping site for the coal ash that will be produced by the plant.
Health Hazard of Coal
In a forum on the hazards of coal August 5, toxicology expert Dr. Romeo F. Quijano said the dangers of coal go beyond the fumes emitted from the plant.
The forum was sponsored by the Global Legal Action on Climate Change- Cebu (GLACC) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Cebu (IBP-Cebu). Quijano is a member of the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of the Philippines Manila – College of Medicine.
Quijano said toxic substances are released in the whole operation of processing coal – from mining, transport, combustion, to waste disposal. Of these substances, the most potent are lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matters, and dioxin and furans. Toxins, which Obando’s group has discovered that toxins are be present in the air of Naga City when they tested it in 2005.
These materials are absorbed by the body through ingestion, inhalation, skin contact and skin absorption. Quijano said when coal ash reaches coastal areas, it would mix with the sediments of water, turning into the highly toxic methyl mercury. The fishes in the water would then absorb this highly toxic chemical, multiplying in their body until they are caught by fishermen and brought to the table for human consumption.
Quijano said the danger of these toxins is demonstrated by the 1956 incident in Minamata City http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamata_disease , Japan wherein methyl mercury was released in the waters of Minamata Bay and Shiranui Sea resulting in bioaccumulation of the toxin in shellfish and fish. Another incident happened in the Nigata Prefecture in 1965. Both incidents were the cause of the Minamata disease, which manifests in neurological symptoms like general muscle weakness, ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, narrowing of the field of vision, damage to hearing and speech, and in extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma and death, that affected thousands of Japanese.