Environmental investigation mission to probe Philex’s mine spill

GREEN groups will launch today an Environmental Investigation Mission (EIM) to conduct an independent scientific assessment of the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the series of dam failures from the Padcal Mines of the Philex Mining Corporation in Itogon, Benguet.

From August 1 to September 13, at least five incidents of dam failure from Philex’s Tailings Pond 3 (TP3) caused the spillage of 20.7 million metric tons of mine tailings from the Balog River to the length of the Agno River. The tailings were observed to have reached even the San Roque Dam.

“A previous fact-finding mission conducted to gather initial data on the extent of damages caused by the Padcal mine dam failures gave the public an idea of the environmental degradation and livelihood disruptions brought about by the disaster. We will probe further by conducting silt and water samplings and an assessment of bio-indicators to check for the extent of the siltation’s disruption of ecological functions and for possible toxic contamination,” said Clemente Bautista, National Coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE.

The mission, composed of environmental scientists, disaster experts, indigenous people’s leaders and community activists, will document the impacts of the tailings spills on the mine workers, communities and ecosystems. The research teams will obtain samples from both the upstream and downstream areas of the San Roque Dam, particularly at the river junction of the Balog and Agno Rivers.

“Preliminary secondary research shows that Xanthates and Frothers—the reagents used for extraction that will most likely be found in the tailings—are found to be strong fish poisons and may also lead to heavy metal accumulation in fish species. Both are also known to be corrosives and irritants and can cause organ damage and even death,” noted Bautista.

The mission was conducted as part of the Defend Patrimony Alliance’s campaign leading to Mine Safety Week. The campaign will culminate in a people’s protest caravan converging from Metro Manila and other provinces in Luzon to Baguio City, where the Mine Safety Week joint celebrations of industry giants and government will be held.

“Results of the EIM will be used as basis for possible legal actions against the Philex mining operations and its enabling laws. A house resolution in Congress has already been filed to investigate the Padcal Mine disaster in aid of legislation. Hopefully, the study will compel our nation’s leaders to strive for a new mining policy that will better regulate the environmental and economic impacts of irresponsible mining,” said Bautista.

Bautista referred to the house probe pushed by Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino through HR 2823 to investigate the tailings pond leakage. Rep. Palatino co-authored with Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino the House Bill 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill, which aims to reorient the mining industry towards local economic development, greater environmental safety and ensured community welfare

The EIM was organized by the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, Regional Development Center – Kaduami, Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), AmiananSalakniban, Katribu Party-list, Kalikasan Party-list, Advocates of Science & Technology for the People, Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines and the BantayAminanan to build upon the initial findings of a fact-finding mission earlier conducted by CBCP-NASSA, CPA and other groups.

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