Toxic materials found in mine spill, fact-finding mission reports

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ANTIPOLO City, Oct. 4, 2012—While Philex Mining Corporation tells the public that the mine spill in Tuba, Benguet is no cause for alarm, the result of the fact-finding mission (FFM) launched by the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-Nassa) and the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines (CCCP), and other cause-oriented and religious groups said otherwise. The said FFM was done from September 16 and 17, 2012.

“The FFM team were able to interview Chairman Amuasen, a three-term elected barangay official in Benguet, a member of the Mine Rehabilitation Fund Committee (MRFC), and chairperson of the Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (BDRRMC) and he said that around 30 families in three sitios?Sitios Calaguian, Tayum and Pangbasan?are affected by the mining leak. He alleged that toxic wastes can be seen in the dried and poisoned plants, trees and branches where the discharges from the dam flowed. Mutant tilapias were also found in the pond. They looked different, with big heads and small bodies, which the workers eat.  He also said that mining wastes include sand and minerals,” Rev. Fr. Edu Garinguez, executive secretary of Nassa, said in a statement. 

Dam 3

The leak was first found last August 1, according to news reports, and was followed by three leakages on the same month.

Gariguez also revealed that fisherfolks and other residents had stopped fishing since the leak and the situation had created a huge impact not only to the health of the inhabitants there, but to their livelihood as well.

“Fisherfolks have stopped fishing since August 2, 2012 because they cannot catch anything at all, at the outlet of the Balog River.  They also cannot opt to fish in farther areas because it is beyond their fishing boundary.  The barangay had already distributed relief goods to the Pangbasan residents, and they learned that Philex did the same, for a couple of times,” Gariguez said.

While the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA – BFAR) had found fishes like tilapia and carp positive with cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic and copper, the authorities said that it is safe to consume them for the level of toxicity is low.

“However, only pelagic fishes such as the Tilapia and Carp were tested. There was no testing done on other fish species in the dam such as gurami, catfish, dojo and shrimps.  No sample was taken from the deepest part of the dam which is at 130 meters.  San Roque Dam is 280 meters above sea,” Gariguez said, adding that the BFAR, however, said that they did not know that “mutant” tilapias are living in the surrounding waters of the Philex mines.

There are around 45 families living near the merging point of Balog and Agno River and most of them belong to tribal minority.

“The community had already submitted a list of their damaged properties to Philex due to the tailings spill.  The mining company’s representatives claimed that compensation to damages are being processed and will be ready to be granted to them in due time,” Gariguez said. [Noel Sales Barcelona/CBCPNews]

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