Death of two rivers in Palawan imminent if Citinickel mining continues

THE large-scale mining operations of the Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation’s  Pulot nickel mining project will potentially result in the biological death of at least two rivers adjacent to its tenement in the province of Palawan. This was revealed in the preliminary findings of an environmental investigation mission (EIM) recently held from November 23 to 26 in the municipality of Sofronio Espanola.

“Initial biological indicators in the Pasi River showed mortalities of shellfish, fish, aquatic and coastal plants and other organisms within its ecosystem that possibly resulted from Citinickel’s mining impacts. Distinct discoloration in the riverbed of Pulot River was observed, an indicator that it is saturated by weathered nickel precipitates that will possibly suffocate the various organisms found in its ecosystem,” said Finesa Cosico, lead environmental scientist of the EIM.

The EIM’s technical team conducted a biological indicator assessment and gathered water and soil samples in six survey points: the Punang River’s estuary and a mangrove forest adjacent to the Citinickel’s stockpiles, the Pasi River where Citinickel’s tailings dam drains, the Maribong River which runs through the community closest to the mining operations, and the Pulot River, where all mining-affected rivers drain, and its adjacent rice fields.

The EIM was organized by Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (BALATIK), Advocates of Science & Technology for the People (AGHAM), Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas, Defend Patrimony Alliance, Task Force-Justice for Environment Defenders, Katribu Party-list and the Kalikasan Party-list, in response to complaints of local residents.

“Residents reported that all these rivers seemingly cry crimson tears with every rainfall, most recently during the heavy rains of the Habagat storms in August. This means oxygen depletion and the eventual biological death in all of these rivers,” Cosico said.

Based on an ocular inspection of the siltation dam facilities of Citinickel, the EIM team estimated the dam to be a shallow four feet deep. It also noted that the dam had questionable structural integrity, which greatly increases the risk of siltation spillage.

The water and soil samples will be tested in laboratories to check for the total suspended solids and heavy metal contamination, respectively.

Kalikasan PNE pointed out that previous mining disasters such as the 1996 Marcopper Mine Spill prove that environments affected by heavy metal contamination and other impacts from mining take a long time to recover and rehabilitate.

“In the interviews and group discussions conducted with locals, it was noted that the productivity of affected fisheries and agricultural lands experienced a drastic drop since the start of Citinickel’s mining operations. There were also cases of respiratory and skin diseases, among others, that could possibly be attributed to the mining’s effects. These problems can be long-lasting especially since heavy metals and other contaminants from mining that will surely result from Citinickel’s operations accumulate and remain over time,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The groups plan to send a letter of concern to DENR’s Region-IV and National offices as well as to Congress to call for an immediate investigation and prompt action on the urgent findings of the EIM regarding the siltation dams of the mining project, among others.

“One of the most striking observations of the EIM concerns Citinickel’s siltation dams, which appeared to be mere 4 meter-feet holes in the topsoil. These would easily overflow or break down should heavy rains come, and is seen as the probable source of past suspected massive siltation incidents in the various affected rivers. Citinickel and all government agencies instrumental to their operations should be impartially investigated and immediately held accountable, as they are clearly violating environmental laws and policies such as the EIS System, Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act,” Bautista said.

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