Position Paper on Philex Mining Spill


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Room 1 Bonifacio Hall, UP SOLAIR, Diliman, Quezon City
Phone no. (632) 385-5638 / Email address: climatechangecongress.org

Published in: Education
  • YES TO LIFE YES TO AGRICULTURE & ECO TOURISM No to mining in Palawan AND other Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)
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  • Palawan YES TO LIFE Ang yaman ng Palawan ay yaman ng Pilipinas It is known as the Philippines’ Last Ecological Frontier. It has 40% of our country’s remaining mangrove areas, 30% of our coral reefs, at least 17 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 8 declared Protected Areas (PAs). It is unmatched anywhere in the country
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Position Paper on Philex Mining Spill

  1. 1. CLIMATE CHANGE CONGRESS OF THE PHILIPPINES, INC. Room 1 Bonifacio Hall, UP SOLAIR, Diliman, Quezon City Phone no. (632) 385-5638 / Email address: climatechangecongress.org POSITION PAPER ON THE PHILEX MINING DISASTERThe PMC Padcal mine spills in Benguet province represents the “biggest mining disaster inthe Philippines.” The mining wastes flowed into water channels from its tailings pondwhen the drainage tunnel was breached.The Philex Mining disaster is ten times more than the volume of mine tailings that spilledout of the Marcopper mine in 1996 in Marinduque, which dumped approximately twomillion metric tons of wastes into the Boac River and is still considered the worst miningdisaster in terms of toxicity.The Philex Mining disaster caused the inflow of mine tailings to the San Roque Dam, theAgno River the Province of Pangasinan. The mining accident that occurred last August 1,2012 is not the first. There were other accidents in this mining site including the collapseof a dam wall in 1992 due to a weakened foundation caused by an earthquake thathappened two years earlier. As it is, these mining accidents could not just be justified as“force majeure “events.Force MajeurePhilex continues to deny it is at fault with regard to the tailings spill on August 1, 2012 andinsists on the incident being a force majeure. The Philex insists that the breach in thetailings pond was due to the extreme water pressure brought about by the two successivetyphoons that hit the area. While this is true, it must also be noted that a company that hasbeen operating for several decades must also be very well acquainted with the risks thatcome with its operations. Heavy rains brought about by typhoons have been identified asthe leading cause of tailings dams’ failure worldwide (Holden and Jacobson, 2012).Baguio City has also been identified as among the top 3 areas in the Philippines receivingthe highest amount of rainfall by PAGASA (PAGASA, n.d.). Moreover, in the fact sheetpublished by PAGASA, the projected change in seasonal rainfall in the province of Benguetis highest in months of June-August during which the incident occurred PAGASA, 2010). Acompany that promotes responsible mining should have factored these in especially in asituation wherein the tailings pond which it uses to contain its mine wastes has reached itslifespan of 20 years (Dinglasan, 2013) and two others that were built before it also sufferedthe same fate (CPA, 2007).
  2. 2. ToxicityThe results of the water quality and toxicity tests conducted by Regional offices of DA-BFAR and DENR-EMB in Region I and CAR have indicated that the tailings which havespilled into the Agno River and Balog Creek were non-toxic in that the heavy metalsdetected in the water and the fish collected from San Roque Dam were below the limit setby the DENR and EU (“Philex, government say”, 2013). This may be a consoling thought forthe people living within the immediate vicinity of Agno River and Balog Creek for now asthey are safe from heavy metal poisoning from the tilapia, common carp, and eel that weresampled from the freshwater bodies. The people must be concerned, however, aboutconsuming other organisms from the Agno River and Balog Creek as these have not beentested for toxicity. Also, there remains the risk of these trace elements accumulating notonly in the fish but also in humans consuming them by means of bioaccumulation and biomagnifications (Chen, et al., 2000)As the focus is on the toxicity of the spillage in the river, other important aspects are notgiven the proper attention. It has been reported that a total of 20 million metric tons ofmine tailings were spilled into the freshwater system.It has choked certain parts of the Balog Creek, a class A freshwater body that was deemedpolluted after the spill. Although the particulate matter has either settled to the bottom orwashed further downstream, making the water appear clear on the surface and renderingwater quality test results that pass the standards, the heavy siltation has choked crevices inwhich fishes breed. Anecdotal information on the catches of fishermen already show thatthere has been a decline in the average fish catch and due to the habitat and breedingground destruction brought about by the tailings spill, it can be expected that catches willcontinue to decrease in the coming months or even years. Invertebrates that live in thebanks and riverbed such as snails and other mollusks have also been covered entirely bytailings reaching beyond 10 meters thick.The tailings may not be able to kill humans instantly, but the sheer amount that wasreleased into the river system is enough to kill the smaller organisms living in it.Considering the basic relationship of these organisms with other larger organisms in thefood web therefore this has devastating effects to the whole ecosystem, not only of theaffected water bodies but the whole watershed. What makes it more alarming is the factthat this is not the first time that a tailings pond of Philex in Benguet has collapsed and alsonot the first that the blame has been pointed to nature (CPA, 2007).Other FactorsWater quality monitoring and toxicity levels in fish both give ideas on the extent of thedamage but they paint a rather incomplete picture. In applying an ecosystems approach,fishes which occupy higher trophic levels in the food chain are not the only organisms tolook at. Phytoplankton, zooplankton, invertebrates, aquatic insects, reptiles, and riparianvegetation are all part of the ecosystem and are most likely to suffer more when drasticchanges occur in their habitat (Diamond, et al., 2022; Chen, et al., 2000). Total Suspended
  3. 3. Solids (TSS) and heavy metals concentration in the water are not the only parameters thatmust be published. Dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity must be measured or publishedas well. Both the government andPhilex must make scientific data available to more Filipinos (e.g. publish results in theirrespective websites) rather than just presenting them to a certain group of people becausethe issue of mining is of national concern. After all, the metals and minerals being mined isthe wealth of the whole nation that happens to be obtained by only a number of companiesand small miners who have the capability to extract them from Philippine soil. It is notenough that the nation benefits from the revenues from mining.The nation must be given due respect in that destructive practices and mining disasters arelimited if not totally avoided. While mining companies improve the lives of theiremployees, they must not overlook their responsibility to all the people that are likely to beaffected by their operations. Mining companies operating in watersheds have a greaterburden in that the impacts of their operations are not limited to the immediate vicinity ofthe mines. That is why large-scale operations like mining are discouraged in watershedareas (Miranda, et al., 2003).MAJOR ISSUES AND RECOMMENDATIONSUN - accepted environmental standard of “precautionary principle”1,2 should prevail in thiscase. The health or even the lives of our farmers, fisherfolks and communities are at stake.We need to do something. The fallowing are CCCP recommendations: 1. Demand from Philex to make public the associated metals at their Padcal mine and all the reagents they are using in separating gold, copper and silver from dirt, in doing so, mitigation could be specific and geographically targeted, 2. Monitor the extent of sediment deposits in our waterways, irrigation systems, rice fields, fishponds and coastal areas, 3. Random sampling of the chemical contamination in our water, aquatic resources, and food crops, 4. Random sampling of fish catch and shell fish in our fishponds and the Lingayen gulf, 5. Random sampling of wells to determine the extent of aquifer contamination if any, 6. Conduct observation research and interviews among our farmers and fisherfolks over time. Their local knowledge will be very valuable to all of us, 7. Conduct research on yield decline on major food crops and aquatic resources,1 Precautionary Principles which is imperative for action and not make scientific uncertainty as an excuse for doingnothing. The precautionary principle was adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development UNCED(2007).2 Precautionary Principle is public policy in RA 9729 and Supreme Court issuance on Writ of Kalikasan. Part V. Rule20, “Sec. 1 When there is a lack of full scientific certainty in establishing a causal link between human activity andenvironmental effect, the court shall apply the precautionary principle in resolving the case before it. Theconstitutional right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology shall be given the benefit of the doubt.”
  4. 4. 8. Estimate environmental cost of the impacts of the mine tailings both short and long term, 9. Determine impacts of “dry tailing dust” to human health and its extent of contamination, 10. Monitoring and R&D should be conducted in ten years, and 11. Cost of such activities should be borne by Philex Mining Company. This is outside the cost that Philex will be paying based on the “Polluter Pays Principle.”3 12. Implement relevant provision of EO 79 (s 2012). Full implementation of the EO79 in all mining areas in the past, present and future particularly Section 1, 2,3,14, 15, and16. To wit: 13. Factor in the impacts of the new normal in the stability analysis of the design and monitoring of the tailing dams from initial trial embankment design to final site closure of the tailing dams, the stability of the tailings embankment remains an important consideration. The primary objective of the impoundment engineer is to develop a reliable waste containment structure at the lowest possible cost. Choices regarding materials, slope angles, drainage control, raising rates, etc., all affect the cost as well as the stability of the structure. Therefore, stability analysis is performed to optimize the structure with respect to cost and other objectives while maintaining reliability (USEPA 1994). In addition, the impacts of climate change should be integral to design and monitoring of mine tailing ponds. Integrating the new normal in the design and construction is not part of the existing EIA or EIS. It is also advisable to review construction concepts and operation procedures related to mine tailing dams, including concepts of secondary security or retention of spills at dams containing toxic effluents or other liquids. Also, more attention should be paid to better integrating the construction and operational aspects of the design. 14. Conducting R&D on bioremediation. Certain plants are able to extract hazardous substances such as arsenic, lead and uranium from soil and water (for example, sunflowers were also used to clean up uranium near Chernobyl). The specific use of plants in bioremediation is known as phytoremediation4. Bioremediation can be defined as any process that uses microorganisms or their enzymes to return the environment altered by contaminants to its original condition. Bioremediation may be employed in order to attack specific contaminants, such as chlorinated pesticides and heavy metals that are degraded by bacteria of plants.3 The Polluter Pays Principle, as adopted by OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)countries, states that “the polluter should bear the expenses of carrying out pollution prevention and control measuresdecided by public authorities to ensure that the environment is in an acceptable state. In other words, the cost ofthese measures should be reflected in the cost of goods and services which cause pollution in production and/orconsumption.” The Polluter Pays Principle: Definition, Analysis, Implementation, Paris, 1975).4 Phytoremediation is the technical term used to describe the treatment of environmental problems through the use ofplants.
  5. 5. 15. Policy. To restore public and industry confidence in tailings management facilities it is clear that a formal auditing regime leading to regular certification needs to be put in place. Many of the processes already exist in legislation, but are fragmented and not presented as a single coherent policy. Strengthen the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) monitoring process with respect to such issues as mining tailings, waste rocks, and acid rock drainage. This strengthened effort should be funded by a direct levy on mining companies. There should also be increased funding for the enforcement of all mining laws and provisions by the DENR, other relevant agencies, and LGUs. It should be recognized that effective enforcement and manageable levels of investment are related. When enforcement is weak, prudence requires that the vetting of prospective investors is more stringent.16. Private - Public Partnerships. The private sector has emerged as a global actor that has a significant impact on environmental trends through its investment and technology decisions. In this regard, the Governments have a crucial role in creating an enabling environment. The institutional and regulatory capacities of Governments to interact with the private sector should be pursued to engender a new culture of environmental accountability through the application of the polluter- pays principle, environmental performance indicators and reporting, and the establishment of a precautionary approach in investment and technology decisions (UNEP 2000).As Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, has said: “Transnational companies have been the first to benefit from globalization. They must take their share of the responsibility for coping with its effects.”