MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mine probers find heavy metals in villagers' bodies

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

Mine probers find heavy metals in villagers' bodies

Editor's Note: Published on Page A1 of the April 27, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

27th April 2006

Inquirer -

RESIDENTS of six villages in Sorsogon and Albay were found to have heavy metals in their bodies, allegedly due to exposure to contaminated materials from a nearby mine, according to a study submitted to the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission. Mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic were detected in urine and blood samples taken from members of 25 households in the towns of Gubat, Prieto-Diaz, Barcelona, Bacon and Bulusan in Sorsogon, and one barangay in Legazpi City.

The study was done by a team led by Nelia Cortes-Maramba, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Manila's Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, upon the request of the Sorsogon provincial government.

"The results showed high chemical content in the participants' bodies and food sources ... These chemicals are harmful, especially lead, which may affect a person's IQ (intelligence quotient) baseline," Maramba told the commission during a hearing in Quezon City on Tuesday.

Most of those who have lead and arsenic in their urine live close to where the mine spills happened, Maramba said.

Direct link?

Another team member, however, did not conclude a direct link between the heavy metal content in the residents' bodies and mining operations of the Australian-owned Lafayette Philippines on Rapu-Rapu Island off the eastern coast of Albay.

"That's why there's the fact-finding commission. They should be the ones to see the link if there is any," Irma Macalinao of the UP College of Medicine told the Inquirer in a phone interview yesterday.

The medical team was unable to determine the amount of arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium in the urine and blood samples because these were below the detection limits of the machines.

"The danger is that it doesn't give you an assurance that the person is not exposed to heavy metals," Macalinao said.

Skin disorders

The team also debunked claims by antimining groups and some residents that they were suffering from skin disorders as a result of exposure to Lafayette's mining operations. "It is just the skin's reaction to sand," Maramba said.

The study was done on Feb. 20-22.

In a statement, Lafayette said the study was preliminary and not conclusive.

"Successive studies are needed to find the source of these metals. This study can't make any linkage to any source, much less Lafayette which does not use mercury and has not been operating for almost six months now," the company said.

The participants, who should have stayed in the communities for at least three years, answered a standardized questionnaire and underwent medical examination.

Those who were exposed to lead emissions, like heavy smokers, gas station workers, welders and painters, were excluded from the tests.

"We did not check for the cyanide content because when we did the study, three months had already passed [since the reported spillage] and cyanide stays in the body for only two days at the longest--unless the content is very high," Maramba said.

Alda Franz C. Quodala

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