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Groups urge ban over mining firm's negligence

Fury after major toxic incident reporter, Manila

February 15, 2013

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Environmentalists and scientists urged the government on Thursday not to allow the Philex mining firm to resume operations after it failed to prevent a disastrous toxic spill in August last year.

“Philex deserves to be punished for its negligence, not given a second chance at mindless exploitation,” said Clemente Bautista Jr, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE).

The PNE, along with scientist group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) and environmental research institution Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines (CEC-Phils), were presenting the findings of an investigation they conducted in October last year into the spill at the Padcal mine in Benguet province.

“The breach at Tailings Pond 3 last August resulted in a serious deposition of heavy metal copper,” said senior CEC Phils researcher Rog Amon. 

The tailings pond breach at the Padcal mine followed heavy rains brought about by a typhoon. Some five million metric tons of tailings were leaked across 5,000 hectares of land in what was one of the country’s worst mining disasters, according to environmentalists.

Tailings are waste material – often toxic – left over from the ore separation process.

Laboratory tests on sediment collected in the impacted areas pegged the highest concentration of copper in the area at 450 ppm (parts per million). 

“That amount of copper is four to five times greater than international standards allow,” added Amon.

The maximum level allowed in a mining country such as Australia is 86 ppm.

“Before the spill, the Balog River was deemed a Class A water body. But during our visit, the river was biologically dead,” said Feny Cosico, an AGHAM environmental expert.

A current Senate and House of Representatives investigation has released no official findings yet on the exact details of the spill such as the toxicity of the waste.

Philex says it hopes to restart operations at the mine by the second half of 2013 and argues that re-opening is essential in order to make the area completely safe.  

"There are so many reasons why we should be allowed to operate again in Padcal, but safety is the most compelling of these,” said Michael Toledo, a high ranking executive of the firm. 

Mike Gowan of Australia’s Golder Associates, a global company specializing in ground engineering and environmental services, said the re-opening of the mining firm must be allowed "for the safety of the greater community,”

Rehabilitation of the damaged tailings "is needed to prevent any geotechnical failure of the embankment and water from overflowing,” he said.

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