MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines accuses mining giant of turning its back on cleanup job

Published by MAC on 2002-01-29

Philippines accuses mining giant of turning its back on cleanup job

Globe and Mail - 29 January 2002
Jeff Sallot

OTTAWA Placer Dome Inc., the Canadian mining giant, is running away from an environmental and human disaster waiting to happen on Marinduque in the Philippines, a politician from the island province says. The company denies the charge, saying it has set aside money for a cleanup and its former Filipino partner in the copper mine is responsible for getting the work done.

The controversy could come to a head today as Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo brings a high-level delegation of officials to Ottawa for meetings with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other ministers on this and other bilateral issues.

Yesterday, Edmund Reyes, a congressman representing Marinduque and a member of the presidential delegation, told Canadian reporters that the tailings and other poisonous debris from the copper mine are being held back by weak dams located high in the mountains.

Those dams may break under the weight of trapped rainwater, sending thousands of tonnes of water, rock and tailings cascading down upon villages and into the Boac River, he added.

Last year, engineering consultants warned Placer Dome and its former corporate partner, Marcopper Mining Corp., that the dams are "virtually certain" to collapse, resulting in "significant downstream property damage and the potential loss of life."

In 1996, a massive leak from a holding pit contaminated the river waters and a bay, ruining the local fishing economy, Mr. Reyes said.

Lead and other contaminants from the 30-year-old mine could seep into the fresh water supply, causing health problems.

Some children are already being treated for lead poisoning, Mr. Reyes said.

He said that Vancouver-based Placer Dome is "giving Canada a black eye" in his country, which could make it harder for other Canadian companies to do business in the Philippines.

Brenda Radies denied that the company was running away from the problem.

Last November, the company set aside enough money in a trust fund to clean up the site even though Placer Dome sold its 39-per-cent share in Marcopper in 1997, she said.

The Philippine authorities have delayed the cleanup; they have not issued the permits for the work, she said.

Placer Dome blamed in 'world-calibre disaster': Canadian mining giant says Philippine government blocking cleanup

The Ottawa Citizen - 29 January 2002
Kate Jaimet

The Philippines' environment minister vowed yesterday to hold one of Canada's largest mining companies accountable for its part in a major environmental disaster.

Heherson Alvarez said he will raise concerns with the Canadian government that Placer Dome Inc. has abandoned cleaning up thousands of tonnes of mine tailings that spilled into the Boac
River in the Philippines in 1996.

"It is a world-calibre disaster," Mr. Alvarez said.

He said he is not sure whether Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will raise the issue when she meets with Prime Minister Jean Chretien during her state visit today and tomorrow.

Placer Dome spokeswoman Brenda Radies said the Vancouver company has already spent $70 million to clean up the spill and that its efforts to finish the job are being blocked by the Philippine government.

Placer Dome is the fifth-largest gold mining company in the world, with sales of more than $1.4 billion in 2000. It became involved in copper mining on the Philippine island of Marinduque in 1969, when it bought a 39.9-per-cent share of mining company Marcopper.
The rest of the shares were owned by the Philippine government, which until 1986 was ruled by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1996, a waste spill sent more than a million tonnes of tailings, including heavy metals, into a 26-kilometre long stretch of the Boac River, killing fish and plugging the river with mud,
silt and rocks.

Placer Dome offered to pay the entire cleanup cost, Ms. Radies said, but work stopped about two years ago because the Philippine government would not grant permits to dispose of the remaining mine tailings in the ocean.

A study by the U.S. geological survey in May 2000 found the river nearly devoid of fish and there were still "extensive tailings deposits."

Ms. Radies said Placer Dome, which sold its shares in Marcopper in 1997, will continue to finance the cleanup but has handed over job to the Philippine company because of the bureaucratic hurdles.

But Marcopper was privatized in 1994 and is now practically bankrupt, Mr. Alvarez said.

He said there are thousands more tonnes of mine wastes stored behind dams in danger of failing, which would send a flood of rock-laden water gushing over downstream villages.

Last October, Mr. Alvarez signed a ministerial order warning that Placer Dome would be held partly responsible if the dams fail.

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