Lepanto faces probe for polluting rivers

MANKAYAN, Benguet — Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) is facing a government probe for allegedly polluting rivers in Mankayan, Benguet, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur and communities along Abra River, one of the five biggest rivers in the country.

Though plainly dismissed by Lepanto environment manager Roland Reyes, government engineer Alex Luis of the Environment and Management Bureau of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR) here had confirmed that results of tests by them are just being awaited by the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB).

The tests last June are to reconfirm initial tests made in April that indicted Lepanto to have allegedly been polluting these rivers as the lead content of its tailings dam 5A had reportedly exceeded normal levels.

Luis told reporters that the PAB had earlier ordered the EMB to reconfirm its April tests, thus last June the agency conducted another lead content analysis of the tailings dam5A of the mining firm.

The April test earlier showed that said dam exceeded the normal lead content.  Such findings led to the elevation of the findings to the PAB.

The EMB is the agency providing PAB with evidence needed in the prosecution of a mining firm.

Luis explained that after an initial sampling from a company that shows a non-passing mark, it goes through a technical conference which recommends remedies.  Compliance is strictly monitored for 90 days, and if there are no observed significant changes, the issue is brought to the PAB where fines may be imposed or a cease or desist order may be issued.

Luis however said the June sampling result has not yet been released.

Lepanto faced another pollution issue in 2004 when PAB penalized it for failing the effluent standards required on rivers.  It got away with the sanction when it paid minimal fees that same year.

In 1989, the firm was also imposed a major fine by the PAB for water pollution.

Downstream effect

In three separate scientific studies documenting the effects of Lepanto’s operations along the Abra River presented at the Saint Louis University (SLU) in August 2005, the same findings of alleged river pollution surfaced.

Engr. Josephine Dulay, officer-in-charge of the SLU chemical engineering laboratory, who did water quality monitoring in almost 20 sampling sites from Mankayan, Benguet down to the mouth of the Abra River in Vigan and Santa, Ilocos Sur, found acidic discharges at an outlet at the back of Lepanto’s carbon-in-pulp mill and that these allegedly came from the underground tunnels.

Extremely large amounts of suspended solids—indicating a high chemical content—were also found by Dulay from samples taken at the mill outlet.  The concentration of cyanide, which is the primary chemical used by Lepanto in gold processing, was found to be high from the mill outlet all the way down to the Baguyos River, the border between Benguet and Ilocos Sur.

The amount of chromium, lead and mercury were also found to be high at some sampling points, she added. The samples were taken in October 2004 and February 2005.

Professors Jocelyn Rafanan and Aldwin Almo of the biology department of the University of the Philippines Baguio determined the effects of water samples from the Abra River on the root growth of the native onion or Allium fistuolosum.

Onion root growth was inhibited by water samples taken from the Lepanto mill outlet and the Baguyos River. This was attributed to the high cyanide content and low dissolved oxygen documented in both sites.

Dr. Ana Marie Leung of SLU’s Department of Preventive and Community Medicine has previously reported more physical symptoms among residents of Paalaban, a community just behind Lepanto’s Mill exposed to mine drainage. Leung is also the executive director of the Community Health Education Services and Training in the Cordillera Region (Chestcore).

In her final report, Leung noted blood samples of Paalaban residents were compared with a control group where it showed that Paalaban residents had higher levels of cyanide, copper and lead in their blood.

The 2005 Abra river studies sounded the alarm about the harmful effects of Lepanto’s mining on the health and environment of surrounding communities, but Lepanto simply shrugged the studies and tagged it as propaganda against the company by groups opposed to large scale mining. # Ace Alegre(NorDis)

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