By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Environmental groups are pointing an accusing finger at irresponsible mining operators for the worsening state of the Palawan river.
According to the Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE-Japan) and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), nickel mining operations in Palawan Island is to blame for the contamination of the Palawan river system. They said the river is already poisoned with unsafe levels of carcinogenic or cancer-causing chemicals.
During a recent present conference in Quezon City, the groups presented findings from an environmental field research study conducted in a river located downstream near the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation’s (RTNMC) mining operations and the Coral Bay Nickel Processing Plant’s operation.
The study, which started in 2009, analyzed water samples and revealed that present levels of hexavalent chromium (Cr-VI), a toxic and carcinogenic chemical, had already exceeded safe levels in the Togupon River. It showed that present levels of Cr-VI contamination in water samples from the Togupon River ranged from 0.1 to 0.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L). This exceeds the Philippines’s Cr-VI effluent standard of 0.1 to 0.2mg/L.
In the meantime, the levels of Cr-VI contamination in water samples taken from the Togupon River’s estuary ranged from 0.05 to 0.15mg/L—exceeding both the Philippine’s Cr-VI environmental standard of 0.05 to 0.1mg/L and the Japanese environmental standard of 0.05mg/L by one to three times over.
A researcher from FoE-Japan Hozue Hatae said the water contamination originated either from upstream mining or refinery operations.
Togupon River runs through the area where the nickel mining operations of RTNMC and the nickel processing facility of Coral Bay Nickel Corp. (CBNC) are located. Both projects are financed and pursued in partnership with Japanese multinational corporations and institutions, such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Nippon Export and Investment Insurance.
Kalikasan national coordinator Clemente Bautista said the Cr-VI contamination in Tagupon River is a serious environmental offense and poses health hazards as it exceeds by two to six times the Philippine Standard for Drinking Water and the Philippine Water Quality Criteria for Toxic and Other Deleterious Substances for Coastal and Marine Waters for the Protection of Public Health.
He explained that the toxic chemical’s presence in estuarine basins also connotes possible effects on the area’s fishing resources.
“This proves all the more that the mining companies in Palawan are far from being responsible as they claim themselves and their operations to be,” he said.
The Philippine maximum allowable limit for Cr-VI for fresh waters and drinking water is 0.05mg/L.
In the meantime, other environmentalists who are also experts in their field commented on the activities of mining corporations.
Allan Mesina, an environmental management expert from the University of the Philippines in Manila said that there was a lot to be desired when it came to the way mining corporations handled ecosystems. For his part, Rog Amon, a chemical expert with the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines, explained how chromium is produced during the mining process and how it affects human health.
“Cr-VI is a human carcinogen. People exposed to high level of Cr-VI from drinking water have increased rate of stomach cancer. People exposed to Cr-VI from breathing dust and fumes are considered more at risk for health problems,” Amon explained.
Kalikasan’s Bautista said their groups are calling on the Aquino administration to suspend all mining operations in Palawan and conduct an investigation into the reports of the worsening environmental destruction in the province.
“We urge the erring companies and relevant authorities to immediately cleanup and rehabilitate the contaminated water bodies to immediately avert possible impacts on surrounding communities and ecosystems. The possibility of pursuing a legal case against these mining operations is also being explored,” he said.
Alongside these campaign efforts addressing the environmental impacts of foreign and large-scale mining, Kalikasan PNE, alongside other people’s organizations, institutions and social movements across the nation are set to hold the Third People Mining Conference on March 1 and 2 in Tagaytay City. The conference aims to synthesize the experiences and strengthen the alliances, networks and campaigns against mining liberalization and plunder
Regulate the mining industry
In a related development, the CEC renewed its call to lawmakers to support a new Philippine mining policy that would regulate the industry to address issues of worsening climate change impact, ecological degradation, and rising vulnerability among the people.
CEC-Phils called on Congress to support measures that will repeal Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. “The current policy under RA 7942 has only enriched a few at the expense of the vast majority and the environment. It prioritized traded short-term profits over long-term development,” said Frances Quimpo, CEC-Phils Executive Director.
The NGO reiterated its support for House Bill (HB) 4315, or the People’s Mining Bill, introduced by Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino. CEC-Phils urged the House Committee on Natural Resources to adopt as a reference bill the consolidated version of HB 4315, HB 206 and HB 3763, in order to begin the process of discussion on the mining policy needed by the Philippines.
CEC-Phils said that the current effects of climate change make the Philippines more vulnerable to greater and more frequent natural disasters related to typhoons, drought, extreme weather events, and chronic deforestation. Given this, they said, the mining industry should be strategically planned, democratically decided upon, stringently regulated and monitored, and developed in order to ensure the least damage to the environment and the most benefit for the Filipino people.
CEC nominated for prestigious environment award
The CEC also recently announced that it is one of the three finalists for Korea’s most prestigious environmental award, the Kyobo Life Award for the Environment.
The Kyobo Life Award for the Environment is given by the Kyobo Foundation for Education and Culture (KFEC), an organization “established to run educational and cultural work contributing to raise leaders, increase national power and to promote public interests.”
This is the second nomination CEC-Phils has received for the Korean environmental award
“CEC-Phils is greatly honored to be a finalist for the Kyobo award. This affirms the organization’s commitment to help communities face environmental problems, and challenges us to further our efforts, reach more people and expand our work in the region,” said CEC-Phils Executive Director Frances Quimpo.
Besides CEC-Phils, another environmental organization from the Philippines and one in Thailand were selected as finalists. The three were chosen from an initial shortlist of 17 international organizations.
Established in 1997, the Kyobo award has been granted to individuals and organizations with exemplary work in the following categories: Environmental Education, Culture of Life and Ecological Alternative. KFEC introduced the International Division category in 2000 for organizations and individuals based outside Korea.