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Urgent call for probe into toxic spill

Groups say reported 'leaks' from mine constitute an environmental disaster

  • ucanews.com reporter, Baguio City
  • Philippines
  • September 14, 2012
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Tribal and environmental watchdogs today called for an independent investigation into reported toxic leaks from a mine in Benguet province. They say the leaks have contaminated indigenous communities' farmland and water sources.

Gold and copper producer Philex Mining Corp last week admitted that "unfavorable weather conditions"  caused its tailings facility to leak four times last month. The latest spillage was on August 30.

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

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and Amianan Salakniban, however, said the tailings pond not only leaked but collapsed, seriously contaminating downstream water sources.

The government's Mines and Geosciences Bureau dismissed the incident as a "mere leakage and spillage" which could be remedied.

Local people, however, are telling a different story.

"The water's taste was abnormal," said Tarcela Colas from Ampucao village, adding that the mine’s effluents were contaminating rice terraces and farms in her village.

The CPA and Amianan claim the initial spill was 15 meters wide and more than one meter thick, covering a 2.5 km stretch of the Balog River running through Itogon town.

They say this volume may have already doubled since the August 30 incident. They claim the mine effluents contain lime, cyanide, arsenic, lead and carbon.

One former mine worker said that cleaning up the mess involves serious health risks. He said workers have to carry sacks of tailings on their backs to fill a 30-hectare crater at the mine site.

Windel Bolinget, chairperson of CPA, said the company's attempt to repair the collapsed facility is futile because it is about 20 years old.

"We have been working 24/7 on long-term solutions to ensure no further outflows of sediment occur," said Philex Mining president Eulalio Austin Jr.
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