MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mine spill no accident, workers tell probe team

Published by MAC on 2005-11-15

Mine spill no accident, workers tell probe team

By Blanche Rivera, Inquirer News Service (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

15th November 2005

AN INDEPENDENT TEAM INVESTIGATING the spill of wastes from the Lafayette Philippines Inc.’s mining site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay received testimony from the mining firm’s workers that the spill was not an accident.

Workers of Lafayette told the team that they were ordered to release the mine waste from the tailings pond into the sea, disputing an official report that the Oct. 31 mine spill was an accident.

The fact-finding mission, led by the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), yesterday announced it had gathered testimony from more than seven workers who claimed they were instructed to redirect the pipes from the tailings ponds to the creeks, which lead to the Albay Gulf.

“Contrary to reports, Lafayette Philippine’s tailings dam was not the site of an accident last Oct. 31 that caused cyanide leakage, fish kills and health problems,” CEC’s Januar Ong, leader of the fact-finding team, said in a press conference in Quezon City yesterday.

“There was no damage to the dam. Testimonies reveal that mine tailings were released from the main tailings dam to a smaller overfill dam which caused the leakage. This is the truth that the mining company is deliberately concealing in an effort to shield itself from its culpability in the disaster,” he said.

Ong showed a video of a worker in the tailings dam. The worker was drawing the location of the tailings ponds and the pipes that supposedly channeled the mine waste and effluent to the sea instead of the polishing pond.

The polishing pond would direct the effluent to the processing station where the water would be recycled.

Ong said the workers refused to be identified but they admitted that one Saturday before the Oct. 31 mine spill, they were told to bring down the pipes so that these would lead directly to the sea.

“They knew that their dam could not hold the water during heavy rains, so instead of having the dam break, they directed the mine waste to the sea,” Fr. Felino Bugauisan, a member of Sagip Isla, said.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, however, disputed the CEC’s claim, saying there were no structures or pipes that could be moved to redirect the flow of tailings or effluents.

Reynulfo Juan, MGB regional director, said the workers’ claim that they had to channel the pipes from the tailings ponds to the sea was nearly impossible because the pipes were very heavy structures that could not be easily moved.

“That’s not something they can do in just a matter of days,” Juan said in an interview at the MGB central office in Quezon City.

Michael Cabalda, MGB mining and environmental safety chief, said Lafayette would need an entire pipeline system to do what the workers claimed they were instructed to do during the heavy downpour that led to the overflow of the tailings pond.

The MGB showed photos of Lafayette’s system, which included a main tailings pond, a lower tailings pond, two settlings ponds and a polishing pond. These structures show the route of the mine tailings from the detoxification plant.

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