MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Scientific studies on effect of Abra river pollution shown

Published by MAC on 2005-08-25


Following past articles highlighting the opposition to Lepanto's mining in Mankayan, further scientific studies continue to emphasise the negative effects of the mining on the downstream environment and communities.

Scientific studies on effect of Abra river pollution shown

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Philippine Sun Star

THREE separate studies documenting the effects of large-scale gold mining along the Abra River were presented here in Saint Louis University (SLU) Wednesday.

The studies centered on the downstream effects of the operations of Lepanto Consolidated and Mining Company (LCMC), the biggest gold mining company in the Philippines, where mine workers have been on strike for the past two months.

The first presentation was made by 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. She disclosed that these samples were taken in October 2004 and February 2005.

Dulay explained that acidic discharges were reported at an outlet at the back of Lepanto's carbon-in-pulp mill and that these allegedly came from the underground tunnels. Extremely elevated amounts of suspended solids - indicating a high chemical content - were also found at the mill outlet. The concentration of cyanide, which is the primary chemical used by Lepanto in gold processing, was found to be elevated from the mill outlet all the way down to the Baguyos Bridge or the border between Benguet and Ilocos Sur. The amount of chromium, lead and mercury were also found to be elevated at some sampling points.

The second presentation made by 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 bridge. This was attributed to the high cyanide content and low dissolved oxygen documented in both sites.

The third presentation was made by Dr. Ana Marie Leung of SLU's Department of Preventive and Community Medicine. Leung had previously reported significantly more health symptoms among residents of Paalaban - a community just behind Lepanto's Mill - who were exposed to mine drainage.

In the final report, blood samples of Paalaban residents were compared with a control group. This study showed that Paalaban residents had higher levels of cyanide, copper and lead in their blood. One resident had a cyanide level above the toxic limit. These levels of cyanide and lead in the blood of Paalaban residents increased with the number of hours they immersed themselves in mine drainages.

Once again, the Abra river studies sound the alarm about the deleterious effects of Lepanto's mining on the health and environment of surrounding communities.

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