Academic research reveals that Abra River is polluted


by Liza Agoot

A study conducted by the Saint Louis University College of Engineering showed that the Abra River is polluted.

The study entitled “The Abra river system water quality monitoring” by Josephine Aries Dulay came out in the Northern Luzon Research Journal published in 2007 which is an inter-university publication for applied research and development studies.

Data sampling for the research was started in October 2004. The sampling was performed on a quarterly basis.

“Water samples taken from different sites along the length of the Abra River system were analyzed in terms of physic-chemical characteristics which include temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, biochemical oxygen demand, nitrates, lead, mercury, chromium, and cyanide concentrations,” reads the study’s abstract.

The samples were taken from the headwaters in Guinaoang as control sample, then going down stream at the mill outlet, tailings dam spillway, Lepanto Bridge, Kayan, Gitlangan, Bulaga, Patungkalew, Banoen, Manabo, Bucay, Bangued, Banaoang, Caoayan, and Santa.

“It was found that except for temperature, all parameter readings exceeded allowable limits or did not meet minimum required concentrations set forth in DAO 34 for the rivers to be classified AA (public water supply class I), Class A (public water supply class II), or Class B (recreational water class I),” the study reads. “This means that the river is polluted and is no longer suited for domestic use.”

“During samplings at the mill outlets and tailings dam spillway, no life forms in these parts of the river were observed,” the researcher noted.
Also alarming to note is the presence of toxic substances such as high nitrate concentrations, heavy metals, and cyanides.

The nitrates could be attributed to fertilizers, domestic and industrial effluents, and animal manure.

Heavy metals present are lead, mercury, and chromium in concentrations much higher than acceptable limits. Although these metals are naturally present in the environment, “if found in excessive amounts, they are most likely due to industrial discharges,” the study reads.

Cyanide has also been found to be in concentrations above the acceptable limits, “especially at the mill outlet and the mine tailings spillway,” the study reads. “Cyanide is the most common chemical used to extract gold from ore despite the fact that leaks or spills of this chemical is extremely toxic to fish, plant life, and human beings.”

Cyanide can break down with sunlight and oxygen, but the low amount
of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water hinders it from breaking down.
The low DO also means the water cannot support aquatic life.

“Due to the pollution, the river may no longer be able to fulfill its productive and life-sustaining functions, as the river’s assimilation and self-purifying capacity is greatly impaired,” the researcher stated.

Abra River stretches from Mountain Province passing through Ilocos Sur and Abra. It used to be rich in aquatic resources supporting the needs of the communities it traverses.

Growth in population, urbanization, technological advancement as well as mining, the study mentioned, have contributed to the river’s pollution.

The abstract of the study reads, “The evidence gathered suggests that much of the pollution in the river originate from the corporate mining operations.”

The study shows that deforestation and slash and burn activities in the upland area, illegal logging and tunnel shoring in mining areas causing soil erosion and river siltation, and use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers by the farmers nearby also cause river
pollution.

While the research may hurt, the researcher’s objective in doing the study is to assess the river’s capacity to receive waste discharge and later recover from the disturbance, to classify the river according to guidelines set by Department Administrative Order 34 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It was, however, stated that the river has the capacity to regenerate if proper management of waste disposal is met.

The author suggested that dredging, like what Marcopper in Marinduque did, can be done to be able to bring back the ecological system of the river beds. Oxidation to destroy cyanide molecules can also be done.

Mining operations and environmental protection going together, the author said, is realizable, but “radical changes in mining practices and stricter government implementation of environmental laws” must be done and “mining companies [should] utilize available technologies for the treatment of contaminated fresh surface water, efficient on-site reduction of metal and the control, storage, and beneficial utilization of mine tailings.” (BaguioMidlandCourier)

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