MAC: Mines and Communities

MBG says tailings dams a hazard during downpour

Published by MAC on 2003-05-08

MBG says tailings dams a hazard during downpour

By Harley Palangchao, Sun.Star (Philippines)

8 May 2003

The tailing dams - either operational or non-operational - of the mining companies in Benguet province are potential geological hazards during typhoons or continuous downpour, an official of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR warned on Tuesday.

But MGB's Engr. Eduardo Austria quickly claimed that the tailings dams in the province are all in stable conditions.

Austria reported that these tailings dams are maintained by the Benguet Corporation in Itogon, Benguet; Itogon-Suyoc Mines (ISMI) in Sangilo, Itogon; Philex Mines, also in Itogon and Tuba and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation in Mankayan, Benguet.

Records released by the MGB-CAR showed that the minimum impounding capacity of these dams is 3.9 million metric tons of wastes. The maximum impounding capacity recorded was pegged at 168.5 million metric tons of a dam that is being maintained by Philex Mines.

Records added that the mining companies are spending by as much as P596 million a year to maintain the stability and low toxicity level of these tailings dams.

At present, only two of the 10 tailings dams are operational and are maintained by Philex and Lepanto mines.

Austria, in an interview, told Sun.Star that officials of the communities below these tailings dams were already informed of the disaster preparedness during typhoons or continuous downpour.

Meanwhile, the geology expert claimed that it would be next to impossible for a Marcopper-like toxic mine disaster to happen in Benguet.

The country experienced its worst mining disaster when toxic spilled from the tailings dam of Marcopper Mining Corp., in Boac, Marinduque, causing widespread floods and extensive damage to a number of villages in the area.

On March 24, 1996, toxic mine tailings at the rate of 5 to 10 cubic metres per second were disgorged into the Makulapnit and 28-kilometer Boac rivers.

The toxic spills immediately caused flash floods which isolated five villages, populated by around 4,400 people, at the far side of the Boac River. One village, barangay Hinapula, was buried under six feet of muddy floodwater and 400 families had to flee to higher grounds.

The government estimated that this toxic waste killed P1.8 million worth of mature freshwater and marine life and P5 million bangus fry.


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