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.

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