MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Canadian Mining Expert Finds Conditions Unacceptable at Canatuan Mining Site

Published by MAC on 2005-01-31

Canadian Mining Expert Finds Conditions Unacceptable at Canatuan Mining Site


31st January 2005

Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte – In October 2004, Dr. Catherine Coumans of Mining Watch Canada paid a visit to the Canatuan community in order to examine the operations of the Canadian mining company TVI Pacific Inc. Her research led her to conclude that TVI was operating in an environmentally destructive manner and without the approval of the local community. She also found that the company was restricting the movements of people and goods and intimidating the community with its armed paramilitary force.

Coumans researched TVI's operations through a variety of means during her visit. She talked with residents of Siocon and Canatuan and other community members. She also visited the mine site and talked with TVI employees. All of these activities led her to form a decidedly negative verdict on TVI's operations in the area.

When Coumans went up to Mount Canatuan to visit the mine she found that the way was blocked by a series of five checkpoints. The checkpoints were patrolled by TVI's paramilitary security force – the SCAA. She also noted that the first checkpoint was located on a public road outside of the mine's concession area. Due to security holdups it took Coumans and the team a total of two hours to get through the blockades.

Once she gained access to the area, Coumans met with Yulo Perez – the manager of the mine. She was taken on a tour and showed her the various facilities that TVI had built to deal with the toxic waste produced during the mining process. Upon inspection, Coumans found that the mine waste containment facilities were woefully inadequate.

The tour led her to believe that the TVI site is far from being a modern facility. Tailings appear to have been dumped in a natural depression where dead trees still stand. The toxic waste is only separated from nearby homes and a road by a flimsy bamboo fence. She also found that the siltation containment systems were woefully inadequate. These only had primitive sandbag walls, which were insufficient to contain the runoff from the mine. Many of the bags were split open and the siltation was freely entering the environment.

The mine manager told Coumans that TVI had just finished a new tailings facility, which had recently come into use. This facility, he informed her, would at best be large enough to hold 9 months worth of tailings. There was no sign that a more permanent facility was being constructed.

During her visit in Siocon, Coumans also met with elected town officials, local Christian church leaders, members of the Muslim community, members of the indigenous Subanon community, and heads of farmers and fishers associations of the town. She found that all of these people individually expressed strong opposition to TVI's project. Many of these people also expressed opposition on behalf of the groups they represented.

Discussions with rice farmers, fish farmers and members of Muslim fishing communities brought to light the fact that environmental degradation was already occurring downstream of the mining site. These groups informed her that the water quality of the local rivers has been deteriorating over the last two years. Farmers and fishers have noticed unusual siltation in the river, a loss of fish fry in fish farms, sudden fish kills and diseased fish in the river. This deterioration was first noticed around the same time that TVI started to run large quantities of mercury laced tailings through its cyanide processing plant.

Coumans concluded her visit to Siocon with a meeting at the Church in the Holy Cross Parish. Here she addressed Siocon residents and shared her concerns with them. She said that she feared Canatuan was dangerously close to becoming an environmental disaster because of its poor facilities. She reminded listeners of the case of the Canadian company Placer Dome on the Philippine island of Marinduque. This copper mine had a massive tailings spill in 1996 that destroyed all life in the 26 km Boac River.

This disaster in Marinduque was only the last in series of environmental contaminations. It had previously destroyed the Mogpog River through a waste dam failure in 1993 and devastated Calancan Bay through 16 years of waste disposal in the sea. Despite being a wealthy company and the managers of the mines in Marinduque, Placer Dome refused to take responsibility for the mess in the Mogpog River and Calancan Bay. It has also been unsuccessful in cleaning up the Boac River and the coastal area that was affected by the spill in 1996. How much more likely is it that a small, inexperienced company such as TVI could have a serious environmental impact that it is incapable of cleaning up?

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