MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines province sues Placer Dome, alleging environmental damage

Published by MAC on 2005-10-04

Philippines province sues Placer Dome, alleging environmental damage

Canadian Press

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

[MAC Editorial note: Please note there is an inaccuracy in the story, as the amount of the suit is open ended.]

OTTAWA (CP) - A Philippines provincial government is suing Canadian mining company Placer Dome Inc., alleging environmental damage to two rivers and a bay.

The provincial government of Marinduque, a small island in the central Philippines, is suing the mining giant for $100 million for environmental rehabilitation and compensation to residents.

The suit was filed Tuesday in Nevada, where Placer Dome has major holdings. It alleges that the company was irresponsible in managing waste from the mines.

Jim McCarthy, a Texas lawyer whose firm is handling the suit, says Placer Dome, as an international company, can be sued in any number of jurisdictions.

"You can be sued' he said.

Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada said Placer Dome fell short of its responsibilities in the Philippines.

She said mine waste has killed two rivers and smothered a bay that provided the livelihood of 12 fishing villages.

"A company such as Placer Dome that describes itself as a leader in the industry has an obligation to do more than provide lip service to principles of sustainability," Coumans said.

"Marinduque is currently not sustainable."

Vancouver-based Placer Dome company owned a 39.9 per cent stake in Marcopper Mining Corp., which operated open-pit mines on the island.

In 1996, officials shut down the mine after a drainage tunnel in a containment pond collapsed, discharging millions of tonnes of liquid waste into two rivers.

The company divested itself of its Marcopper holdings in 1997.

Coumans said that's no excuse.

"The food security and the health of current and future generations is clearly in jeopardy because of the ill-contained and highly toxic mine waste that is now is rivers and seas and in various other areas of the island," she said.

"This is what Placer Dome left behind and it is simply not good enough to say, 'We divested and now it is someone else's responsibility'."

NDP MP Ed Broadbent said the federal government should ensure that Canadian companies operating abroad hold to Canadian environmental and human rights standards.

"They should no longer be permitted to do abroad what they cannot do in Canada," he said.

Philippine Province Sues Canadian Mining Giant Placer Dome

Tuesday October 4, 2005

MiningWatch Canada

(Ottawa) The government of the Philippine Province of Marinduque files suit today for over a hundred million dollars against Canadian mining giant Placer Dome Inc. (PDG). The suit, being filed in Nevada, U.S.A., is spearheaded by a team of attorneys based in Texas.

The provincial government of Marinduque holds Placer Dome responsible for decades of destructive mining on the island. The suit seeks funds for: the clean up and rehabilitation of polluted lands, rivers, coastal shores and bays; compensation for economic damages including lost property and livelihoods; damages for resulting health problems now and in the future; and the repair of deteriorating mine structures holding back tonnes of mine waste, which poses an imminent threat to downstream communities and environments.

"We are resolved to see that Placer Dome is made to answer for what it has done to our island and its people," says Provincial Board member Allan Nepomuceno "after reaping the wealth of our province for decades, Placer Dome left us with the nothing but lost lives, environmental destruction and the bill for the clean up of all the toxic waste that threatens the future of our children and grandchildren."

Canadian Citizens and non-governmental organizations have vigorously engaged both Placer Dome and the Canadian government over this issue since the 1980s to no avail. Now a parliamentary committee report calls on the government to take greater responsibility for the behaviour of Canadian corporations overseas. “When it comes to human rights and the environment we need a law that prohibits Canadian companies from doing abroad what they are no longer permitted to do at home." stated Ed Broadbent, Member of Parliament, Ottawa Centre.

Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada lived in Marinduque for more than a year and witnessed the devastation of the island’s Calancan Bay and the loss of livelihood of 12 fishing villages “Placer Dome managed those mines and were the technical experts,” says Coumans, “Placer knew that what it was doing in Marinduque would be illegal in Canada but Placer thought they could get away with it, so they simply ignored the pleas of the people of Marinduque to stop the destruction of their environment.”

Representing Marinduque in the lawsuit is a team of attorneys spearheaded by Diamond McCarthy Taylor Finley & Lee, L.L.P., a Texas-based litigation boutique, and Snell & Wilmer, L.L.P., a Phoenix, Arizona-based firm with over 400 attorneys resident in offices throughout the Western United States. Skip Scott of Diamond McCarthy spoke for both firms when he said: “You cannot come away from Marinduque without being deeply moved and incensed by the sheer devastation and callous disregard for life and property. The people there are simple farmers and fisher-folk that depend upon the land, rivers and marine life for their livelihood. They deserve a forum in which to seek justice.”

For further information contact: Walter “Skip” Scott, Jr., Diamond McCarthy Taylor Finley & Lee, L.L.P., 214-389-5337 Hon. Ed Broadbent, Member of Parliament, Ottawa Centre 613-995-1794 Mr. Allan Nepomuceno, Provincial Board of Marinduque, 613-569-3439 Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada 613-569-3439

Placer Dome faces $115M lawsuit - Philippines sues mining giant for cleanup of 1996 spill

Kelly Patterson, The Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

[MAC Editorial note: Please note there are two inaccuracies in the story, the amount of the suit - it is open ended, and the fact that it is not only for the 1996 spill - it is for all damages areas and people.]

Vancouver-based Placer Dome Inc. is being sued in the U.S. for more than $115 million over its role in the troubled Marcopper mine in the Philippines.

The suit was to be filed today on behalf of the province of Marinduque, where a spill at Marcopper sparked a national disaster in 1996. A recent U.S. study found that for decades, toxins have been seeping into local rivers from the now-defunct mine, in which Placer Dome owned a 39.9-per-cent share until 1997.

The province of Marinduque wants money for the cleanup of land, rivers, bays and coastlines, as well as compensation for affected villagers and the repair of Marcopper's leaky mine-waste facilities.

Marcopper has a troubled history: In 1993, a dam holding back tonnes of toxic sludge burst, contaminating a river and killing two villagers. Three years later, a drainage plug at the same tailings pond failed. This time, the flood of mine waste smothered all life in a major waterway, causing a national emergency.

"After reaping the wealth of the province for decades, Placer Dome left us with nothing but lost lives, environmental destruction and the bill for the cleanup of all the toxic waste," says Allan Nepomuceno, a representative of Marinduque.

Placer Dome declined to comment before the formal statement of complaint had been filed. However, spokeswoman Gayle Stewart said, "We understand the national government of the Philippines has taken over remediation of the site, and given this, we find the actions of ... Marinduque surprising."

Ms. Stewart referred to a July article in the Manila Bulletin in which the Philippine government announced it would start fixing several dams and other mine-waste facilities at Marcopper, which closed after the 1996 disaster.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Geological Survey said the mine's waste facilities were crumbling and another disaster is imminent if they are not fixed immediately. The mine has left a number of other lingering environmental problems, including a causeway of tailings that stretches seven kilometres into the sea, and mounds of potentially toxic mine waste piled along riverbanks, the study noted.

After the 1996 spill, Placer Dome voluntarily put up more than $70 million U.S. to repair damage from the accident, which sent almost 300,000 cubic metres of potentially toxic mine waste into the Boac River, a major waterway. It also paid $1.5 million U.S. in compensation to affected villagers.

The company left behind a technical crew until 2001 as well as a cleanup fund to help remediate the disaster. Subsequent studies by its technical staff found the cleanup successful, noting no impact on groundwater or on coastal areas.

"To me, that doesn't sound like running away," Keith Ferguson, vice-president of safety and sustainability at Placer Dome, told the Citizen earlier this year.

Mr. Ferguson also pointed out that Placer Dome was a minority shareholder in the venture, and came forward with compensation only out of a sense of moral duty.

But Catherine Coumans of the Ottawa-based advocacy group MiningWatch Canada says Placer Dome was a key technical adviser for the mine from Day 1, pointing out that for 25 years, the firm was the only mining company involved in funding the venture.

For the first 17 years of the project, the only other major player was former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, who held 49 per cent of the shares until he was deposed in 1986, she points out. His shares were taken over by the Philippine government, and later privatized in 1994. Earlier this year, Joost Pekelharing, chairman of Marcopper's board, told the Citizen, "It is obvious that during the period Placer was involved in the mine, they were in fact managing the operations."

But, Mr. Ferguson denies Placer Dome was running the mine. He has admitted some managers were "former employees."

The lawsuit comes just as the Canadian government is drafting its response to a report from the standing committee on foreign affairs and international development, which urged the government to adopt "clear legal norms" to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for the social and environmental impact of their operations overseas.

The government must respond by Oct. 19.

Marinduque sues big Canadian mining company in Las Vegas

Oct 06, 2005

Blanche S. Rivera, Philippine Daily Inquirer News Service

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Marinduque provincial government has filed a lawsuit in Nevada accusing Canadian mining giant Placer Dome Inc. of damaging the environment and health of residents of an island in Southern Tagalog nine years ago.

"They should and must answer for what they have done," Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes said Tuesday in announcing that the lawsuit had been filed in Clark County District Court.

Placer Dome spokesperson Gayle Stewart in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, said the company had not been served with the claim and could not immediately comment.

Reyes and Walter "Skip" Scott Jr., a Dallas-based lawyer representing Marinduque in the case, blamed Placer Dome for an environmental accident that sent millions of tons of open-pit copper mine waste down a river to the provincial capital of Boac in March 1996.

Placer Dome is one of the world's largest gold mining companies, with 13,000 employees and interests in 16 mining operations in seven countries, according to its website.

Scott and Patrick Byrne, the Las Vegas lawyer who filed the case, called Nevada state courts an appropriate venue to seek damages and restitution because Placer Dome operated three gold mines in northern Nevada. The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount.

Lawyers for Marinduque said they didn't believe they could get a fair hearing in Canada and the lawsuit couldn't be filed in the Philippines because Placer Dome no longer did business there.

"They are generally amenable to sue here in Nevada," Scott said.

The Marinduque mine, operated by Placer Dome partner Marcopper Mining Corp. of the Philippines, was closed by the Philippine government after the mining dam failed in 1996.

Placer Dome cut ties to the Philippines the following year after 33 years of mining on the island. The cleanup was left to Philippine subsidiaries that Reyes and Scott said did a poor job protecting residents from the ill effects of tainted air, land and water.

Pleas ignored

"They have disappeared. They have ignored our plea," Reyes said of Placer Dome, describing what she called "unspeakable poverty and devastation" on an island that she said used to be a peaceful tropical paradise where people still lived in bamboo and palm-thatched huts.

She said 217,000 people lived in the province. Most live on Marinduque, an island of about 1,536 sq km -- slightly smaller than the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The lawsuit alleges that forests, river basins and coral reefs have been smothered by hundreds of millions of tons of pulverized mining waste rock and toxic tailings laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, nickel and sulfate.

Citing a Placer Dome report in March 2005, Stewart pointed out that the Canadian mining company had only a 40-percent interest in Marcopper and was thus spared by Philippine law from the full responsibilities of a majority shareholder.

The report said no one died due to flooding, and that company subsidiaries voluntarily contained the damage and compensated affected people. They also built roads, clinics and shelters, paid for an electricity system on the island, dredged the river affected by the spill and monitored groundwater for contamination.

No detectable acute health effects had been traced to the presence of tailings in the river, the Placer Dome report said.

The lawsuit filed against Placer Dome is similar to the troubles confronting another multinational mining company. Newmont Mining Corp. faces criminal charges in Indonesia where American Richard Ness, who directs the Denver-based company's local subsidiary, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $68,000 if convicted of dumping mercury and arsenic-laced pollutants into an Indonesian bay.


Notwithstanding the filing of the lawsuit against Placer Dome, the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources is planning to undertake in the first quarter of next year the rehabilitation of the San Antonio mine that had been abandoned by Marcopper.

This month, the DENR and Marcopper are scheduled to identify structures in the San Antonio mine site that badly need repairs.

Environment Undersecretary Rado Dimalibot, who oversees the DENR's initiatives for responsible mining, said the mine site needed to be surveyed after Marcopper raised some contentious points in a US Geological Survey (USGS) report, which was commissioned by the Philippine government last year.

The rehabilitation of Marcopper's mine will be based on the USGS study, titled "Marinduque Environmental and Health Study."

The San Antonio mine was jointly operated by Marcopper and Placer Dome from 1975 to 1996. Mining operations stopped after a dam holding 4 million cubic meters of mine tailings broke in March 1996.

An estimated 1.6 million cubic meters of mine tailings spilled into the Boac and Makulapnit Rivers. About 295,000 cubic meters of toxic tailings remain in the two rivers, according to the DENR.

"The Marinduque mining project cannot start until after the remediation, which could take about two years," Dimalibot told the Inquirer yesterday.

Priority mine site

The San Antonio mine, which has a potential revenue of P300 million based on a required investment of P100 million, is one of the Philippine government's 23 priority mining sites.

Aside from Marcopper itself, at least four firms have expressed interest in operating the San Antonio mine. But the DENR has put off awarding rights to operate the mine to any of the firms until after Marcopper has completed a cleanup of the damaged areas.

"This is the responsibility of Marcopper, and they should be the one to do the remediation," Dimalibot said.

The government has threatened to take over the San Antonio copper project if Marcopper doesn't finish the cleanup job.

No money for cleanup

Placer Dome has insisted that it had left $13 million with Marcopper for the cleanup of the Boac River, but Marcopper maintains it has no money for the river's rehabilitation.

While Marcopper and Placer Dome have acknowledged responsibility for the mine spill in the Boac River, the mining partners have refused to take responsibility for a similar mine spill in the Mogpog River in 1993 and the dumping of toxic tailings into Calancan Bay, a major source of livelihood for the fishing communities in Marinduque, since 1975.

Suit vs Canadian mining firm a test case for RP

Oct 08, 2005

By Blanche S. Rivera, Philippine Daily Inquirer News Service

THE LAWSUIT against the company that ran the Marcopper mines is a test case for the Philippine government, which is promoting "responsible mining" as the backbone of the country's economic development, a top environment official said Friday.
Environment undersecretary for Mining Rado Dimalibot said the government "recognized" the claim of the Marinduque provincial government against Placer Dome Inc. as legitimate, adding its citizens had the right to sue the Canadian mining giant for damage done to the local environment.

Dimalibot said the cleanup and rehabilitation of the Marcopper mine sites, from which mine tailings flowed into two rivers in 1996, was crucial to the success of the revitalized Philippine mining industry.

"This is very crucial because even the private sector is affected. Other mining firms are having a hard time here because the issue of Marcopper is always raised against them. They are also suffering because of what happened to Marcopper," Dimalibot said in a phone interview yesterday.

"This is what you might call a test case for us," he added.

He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources would also take Placer Dome and its local partner Marcopper Mining Corp. to court if the two companies refuse to rehabilitate the mine sites by yearend.

"We are talking now and we're trying to work together, but if they keep a stubborn stance and do not rehabilitate soon, eventually we may reach that point," Dimalibot said.

A team composed of at least 16 experts from the private sector, Marcopper, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the Chamber of Mines and the Department of Health is going to Marinduque this month.

Michael V. Cabalda, chief of the MGB's Mining Environmental Safety division, said the team would validate the rehabilitation proposed for the urgent problems identified by the government-commissioned US Geological Society study.

The USGS study listed the Maguila-guila dam, Tapian Pit 310, Tunnel 193 bulkhead final plug, the Bol River dam and both the Upper and Lower Makulapnit dams as needing the most urgent remediation.

"It's very important that Marcopper completes the rehabilitation because it will showcase our will to do things right, that we're not just for the proliferation of mining but we want only those who can handle the social cost," Cabalda told Inquirer News Service in an interview Friday.

He said the MGB has prepared a rehabilitation proposal for the identified areas, regardless of the cost of the project.

"If it's just the government, we will over-design. We will ensure that we have the best that technology can offer. We did not consider the cost that Marcopper would incur; the bottom line is to make it safe," he said.

Marinduque demanda a una compañía minera canadiense en Las Vegas

6 de ocubre de 05

Philippine Daily Inquirer News Service

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- El gobierno provincial de Marinduque, en Filipinas, presentó una demanda legal en Nevada, Estados Unidos, acusando al gigante minero Placer Dome Inc. de haber dañado el medioambiente y la salud de los residentes de una isla de Tagalog del Sur nueva años atrás.

"Ellos tendrán que responder por lo que han hecho" declaró el jueves Carmencita Reyes, gobernadora de Marinduque, al anunciar la presentación de la demanda en una corte legal del distrito de Clark County.

Por su parte, el vocero de Placer Dome en Vancouver, Gayle Stewart, dijo que la empresa no había sido notificada de la demanda y que no haría comentarios.

El estudio Reyes y Walter "Skip" Scott Jr., en Dallas, que patrocina a Marinduque en el caso, acusa a Placer Dome por un accidente medioambiental que ocasionó el ingreso de millones de toneladas de residuos provenientes de una explotación de cobre a cielo abierto al cauce del río Boac en marzo de 1996.

Placer Dome es una de las más grandes compañías mineras del mundo, con trece mil empleados y dieciseis operaciones mineras en siete países, de acuerdo a su sitio web.

Los abogados de Marinduque dijeron que no creían que un juicio justo pudiera ser posible en Canadá, y que no podía demandarse a la empresa en Filipinas porque ya no realiza operaciones allí. La demanda no especificó un monto de dinero determinado.

La mina Marinduque, operada por la socia de Placer Dome en Filipinas Marcopper Mining Corp., fue cerrada por el gobierno filipino luego del colapso del dique en 1996.

La empresa terminó su relación con el país luego de explotar minerales allí por un período de treinta y tres años. La limpieza fue dejada a cargo de subsidiarias que hicieron muy poco por proteger a los residentes de los efectos nocivos del aire, la tierra y el agua contaminadas, según los abogados Reyes y Scott.

Súplicas ignoradas

"Ellos desaparecieron. Ellos ignoraron nuestra súplica" Reyes dice de Placer Dome, al describir lo que llama "innombrable pobreza y devastación" en una isla que, asegura, era un pacífico paraíso tropical donde la gente todavía vivía en chozas hechas de bambú.

Unas 217 mil personas viven en la provincia, la mayoría de ellas en Marinduque, una isla de 1500 kilómteros cuadrados (algo más pequeña que Hawaiian).

La demanda asegura que bosques, cuencas hídricas y bancos de coral se ahogaron bajo millones de toneladas de residuos de roca pulverizada y colas tóxicas conteniendo arsénico, cadmio, plomo, manganeso, níquel y sulfato.

Citando un informe de Placer Dome fechado en marzo de 2005, Stewart señaló que la compañía tenía sólo el 40 por ciento de Marcopper, y que por ello la ley filipina la liberó de las responsabilidades de un accionista mayoritario.

El informe dice que nadie murió a causa del derrame, y que las compañías subsidiarias voluntariamente contuvieron el daño y compensaron a las personas afectadas. Además construyeron caminos, clínicas y refugios, pagaron por un sistema de electricidad para la isla, drenaron el río afectado por el derrame y monitorearon el agua subterranea para prevenir contaminación.

No se detectaron afectos sobre la salud por la presencia de las colas en el río, dice el informe de Placer Dome.


A parte de la demanda contra Placer Dome, el departamento de Medioambiente y Recursos Naturales de Filipinas planea realizar la rehabilitación de la mina San Antonio, abandonada por Marcopper, a comienzoa del año próximo.

Este mes, el DMNR y Marcopper tienen programado identificar estructuras en la vieja mina que necesitan reparaciones urgentes.

La mina San Antonio fue operada por Marcopper y Placer Dome de 1975 a 1996. La explotación terminó cuando un dique que contenía cuatro millones de metros cúbicos de colas colapsó en marzo de 1996.

Se estima que 1.6 millones de metros cúbicos de residuos fueron liberados en los ríos Boac y Makulapnit. Unos 295,000 metros cúbicos permanecen todavía hoy en los ríos, según el DMNR.

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