Philex, gov’t say science to dictate verdict on Padcal

(In the interest of fairness, I am posting the side of Philex- Ed)

MANILA, Philippines— Philex Mining Corp. and government regulators have agreed that studies backed up by scientific and engineering facts should be the bases for allowing Padcal tooperate again, boosting company confidence for the mine site to reopen.

“I am confident that the government would allow us to reopen Padcal, based on what happened during the public presentation at the MGB,” Michael Toledo, senior vice president for Corporate Affairs at Philex Mining.

He is referring to the public forum organized by the MGB, or Mines and Geosciences Bureau, on Wednesday, where Philex Mining executives argued before government, nongovernment organizations, and stakeholders for the rehabilitation of Tailings Pond No. 3 (TP3).

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Philex Mining Corp. VP for Environment and Community Relations Victor Francisco presenting the company’s rehabilitation program, in connection with the Aug. 1 Padcal accident in Benguet, during apublic forum at the MGB offices in Quezon City, Feb. 6

Undersecretary for Field Operations Demetrio Ignacio, Jr. of DENR, or Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said during the forum that scientific studies must be the bases for whether to allow the reopening of Padcal operations.

Victor Francisco, vice president for Environment and Community Relations at Philex Mining, has emphasized that the tailings, which accidentally discharged from TP3 to Balog Creek and its convergence area with Agno River last Aug. 1, following heavyrains brought about by two successive typhoons, are nontoxic.

“All our reagents are biodegradable and used in very low concentration,” he told the MGB forum. “Besides, the heavy metals found in water samples taken from TP3 and Balog Creek after Aug. 2012 were way below the DENR standards of toxicity on normal operations.”

A reagent is a substance that, because of the reactions it causes, is used in analysis and synthesis.

Mike Gowan of Golder Associates, a global firm specializing on ground engineering and environmental services, has said that accumulated water in TP3 is a threat to its embankment, as this could slump and trigger the unnecessary release of sediment, especially during the rainy season starting from June.

His recommendation is for government regulators to allow Padcal to operate again, as 3.5 million tons of fresh tailings are needed to fill the conical void and create a beach in the pond, which was built to hold solids, not water. This process would push the water away from the embankment and into a spillway, thereby reinstating thepond to its original form.

MGB Acting Director LeoJasareno has vowed to come up with a decision in one week based on, among other things, the public presentation done by Philex Mining and the sentiments ofstakeholders, particularly the miners and other Philex Mining employees as well as the LGUs, schoolchildren, teachers, residents, and indigenous peoples inPadcal’s host towns of Itogon and Tuba, in Benguet province.

Mr. Jasareno has also said that Philex Mining has until Feb. 19 to pay the P1.034 billion in fees over the Padcal accident.

DENR sets the standards at 1.0000 milligram per kilogram (mg/kg) for copper (Cu), 0.2000 mg/kg (lead, Pb), 0.0500 mg/kg (cadmium, Cd), 0.1000 mg/kg (chromium, Cr), and 0.0050 mg/kg (mercury, Hg).

Mr. Francisco, citing tests made by the full-service laboratory CRL Environmental Corp., said the watersamples for Sept. 2012 and Jan. 2013 all had lower heavy-metal contents than the DENR standards: 0.02 mg/kg for Cu, 0.04 mg/kg for Pb, 0.01 for Cd, 0.03 for Cr, and 0.0001 for the latter month for Hg, but which was not detected lastSeptember.

For the months of May and July last year, water samples analyzed by Philex Mining resulted to BDL, orbelow the detection limit, for Cu (May only) and 0.0197 (July), 0.0682 and 0.0832 for Pb, 0.0175 and 0.0117 for Cd, 0.0702 and 0.0255 for Cr, and 0.0001 and none for Hg.

Mr. Francisco also cited a study done by Maxima Flavier, who has a doctorate in agricultural chemistryfrom the University of the Philippines, in Los Baños, Laguna, where she concluded to have not detected arsenic (As), Cd, and Hg in the tailings taken from Balog Creek and Agno River.

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Dr. Flavier’s study also resulted to the detection of other heavy metals in the same tailings samples, but way below hazardous levels. Low amounts of Cr, Cu, Pb, and zinc (Zn) were found in compound form, owing to their natural occurrence in gold and copper ore-bodies.

Mr. Francisco also said that in September and November last year, the fish samples taken from Agno River passed all the environmental quality standards set by the European and Paris Commissions, making the fish fit for human consumption.

Citing studies done by SentroTek, or Sentro sa Pagsusuri, Pagsasanay at Pangangasiwang Pang-Agham at Teknolohiya Corp., Mr. Francisco said the fish in Agno River even had lower content of heavy metals compared with those in Laguna Lake, the country’s largest lake and a primary source of freshwater fish.

Mr. Francisco reiterated during the public forum that Philex Mining has embarked on an ecosystems approach in its rehabilitation of the affected waterways under the company’s Integrated Environmental Management Program (IEMP). This program has three components, namely, social (involving the stakeholders, regulators, and LGUs), physical (manpower and mechanical and engineering works), and biological (aquatic and terrestrial).

Besides Dr. Flavier, Philex Mining, which voluntarily stopped operations at Padcal last Aug. 1, has also hired 14 other experts from UP Diliman, UP Los Baños, Central Luzon State University, and the Ateneo de Manila University (with a support from the University of Pangasinan) to help it pursue its rehabilitation program.

The team’s leader and assistant leader are Nicomedes Briones, PhD, an expert on environmental and natural resources and a resource economist, and Dr. Emmanuel Lleva, a specialist in river basin planning and forestry.

The other team members are Carlos Primo David, PhD (environmental science and geology); Nina Cadiz, PhD (freshwater biology); Federico Perez, PhD (environmental chemistry); Armando Espino, PhD (hydrologist/groundwater flow and mass transport); Severino Salmo, PhD (plant biomass and carbon sequestration); Louie Balicanta, MA (urban and regional planning/geodetic engineer); Alma Lorelei de Jesus, MSc (environmental chemistry); Pastor Malabrigo, PhD (cand.), a professor in plant taxonomy; Alvin Nacu (fisheries biology);Bonifacio Labatos, MsC (limnology/fish taxonomy); Rolando Urriza, MsC (ornithology and mammalian taxonomy); and Russell Son Cosico, MSc (mammalian conservation environmental science).

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