Placer Dome blamed in 'world-calibre disaster': Canadian mining giant says Philippine government bloPublished by MAC on 2002-01-29
Placer Dome blamed in 'world-calibre disaster': Canadian mining giant says Philippine government blocking cleanup
The Ottawa Citizen - 29 January 2002
The Philippines' environment minister vowed yesterday to hold one of Canada's largest mining companies accountable for its part in a major environmental disaster.
Heherson Alvarez said he will raise concerns with the Canadian government that Placer Dome Inc. has abandoned cleaning up thousands of tonnes of mine tailings that spilled into the Boac
River in the Philippines in 1996.
"It is a world-calibre disaster," Mr. Alvarez said.
He said he is not sure whether Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will raise the issue when she meets with Prime Minister Jean Chretien during her state visit today and tomorrow.
Placer Dome spokeswoman Brenda Radies said the Vancouver company has already spent $70 million to clean up the spill and that its efforts to finish the job are being blocked by the Philippine government.
Placer Dome is the fifth-largest gold mining company in the world, with sales of more than $1.4 billion in 2000. It became involved in copper mining on the Philippine island of Marinduque in 1969, when it bought a 39.9-per-cent share of mining company Marcopper.
The rest of the shares were owned by the Philippine government, which until 1986 was ruled by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
In 1996, a waste spill sent more than a million tonnes of tailings, including heavy metals, into a 26-kilometre long stretch of the Boac River, killing fish and plugging the river with mud,
silt and rocks.
Placer Dome offered to pay the entire cleanup cost, Ms. Radies said, but work stopped about two years ago because the Philippine government would not grant permits to dispose of the remaining mine tailings in the ocean.
A study by the U.S. geological survey in May 2000 found the river nearly devoid of fish and there were still "extensive tailings deposits."
Ms. Radies said Placer Dome, which sold its shares in Marcopper in 1997, will continue to finance the cleanup but has handed over job to the Philippine company because of the bureaucratic hurdles.
But Marcopper was privatized in 1994 and is now practically bankrupt, Mr. Alvarez said.
He said there are thousands more tonnes of mine wastes stored behind dams in danger of failing, which would send a flood of rock-laden water gushing over downstream villages.
Last October, Mr. Alvarez signed a ministerial order warning that Placer Dome would be held partly responsible if the dams fail.