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MGB-MIMAROPA presents Marcopper issues and updates at the RIACEH Meeting

The Regional Inter-Agency Committee on Environmental Health (RIACEH), headed by Director Eduardo C. Janairo of DOH-MIMAROPA Region, convened on March 9, 2017 to discuss the post-Marcopper mining incident and other environmental health related issues. The Committee meeting was attended by different government agencies from MIMAROPA Region namelythe Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), UP-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), Office of Civil Defense-Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (OCD-RDRRMC), Department of Agriculture (DA), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Marinduque, among others. Discussed in the Committee meeting were the possible actions to take in addressing, once and for all, the environmental and health problems posed by the previous mine site of Marcopper Mining Corporation (MMC). The company halted its mining operations following the disaster in March 24, 1996 wherein 1.6 million out of the 21 million cubic meters of tailings stored in its abandoned Tapian pit spilled into the Boac River.

The vast mine dumps of Marcopperin Maguila-guilaand Makulapnit areasgreatly contribute to the sedimentation of Mogpogand BoacRivers, as well as the leaching of heavy metals which can be harmful to human and aquatic biota even in low concentrations. The entire stretch of Maguila-gila river valley including the midstream Mogpog River experience the most extensive effects of increased siltation and heavy metal pollution from Marcopperwaste dumps. As for Maguila-guila Siltation Dam,MGB-MIMAROPA is now closely monitoring the damaged structures of the facility and the development of subsidence caused by sediment collapse in the reservoir floor of the impounding structure.Theseincidents impose serious threats not only tothe integrityof the Maguila-guila Dam but also to theentireMogpogriverine environment.MGB-MIMAROPAsuggested thatgabion barriers be constructedat the downstream portion of the Maguila-guila Siltation Dam near Brgy. Bocboc as a stopgap measure to control the upsurge of sediments from upstream sources.Another structural facility that needs immediate intervention is the Upper Makulapnit by-pass tunnel, which recently showed water leakages from several segments of the sealedtunnel.This condition of Makulapnitby-pass tunnel including other water impounding structures of Marcopper pose the threat of flooding in communities located downstream of the mine sitein the event of structural failure.Meanwhile, to address the issues on environmental health at the mine area, hydrological survey involving assessment of groundwater condition in both Mogpog and Boac River Basins will be carried out in future monitoring activities of Marcopper.

 The EMB-MIMAROPARegion presented the results of its water quality monitoring of the Boac and Mogpog Rivers. The presentation showed that heavy metals such as Lead, Cadmium, and Copper are still present in the waters of Boac and Mogpog Rivers in elevated concentrations, 20 years after Marcopper’s mining operations have stopped.

 The UP-PGH presented the results of its rapid assessment of the health of residents living in proximity to the rivers.The results presented showed that several people exhibited skin conditions that may be attributed to the elevated metal concentrations in the river.

 While the DOST-MIMAROPA Region presented several studies about new technologies that will mitigate the harmful environmental effects of mine tailings and other mine contaminants. One such technology is the biochar which is able to capture metal ions and other toxic organic molecules from mine contaminants.

 The Committee agreed on the creation and capacity building of provincial task forces for each of the provinces in MIMAROPA. The goal is to have a capable team in each of the provinces that will be able to address environmental health issues when the need arises. Another decision made by the body is the formation of a sub-committee for Marcopper issues. This sub-committee will be further grouped into three clusters:  (1) a quick response team, (2) a team that will consolidate studies and documentations of technologies relevant to the Marcopper issue, and (3)a team that will look at the rehabilitation and long term remediation options for the Marcopper mine site.