By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
JOSE Panganiban Mayor Dong Padilla has batted for a drastic reduction in the use of mercury as part of the reform needed in the country’s small-scale gold mining industry.
He pitched the proposal at the start of a recent meet held in Baguio City – the National Summit of Artisanal Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) – where he posed the question to the assembly: Is this group (summit) convinced about removing mercury in small scale mining?”
He stressed that with several communities dependent on the industry, coming up with responsible and mercury-free methods is an urgent matter for the local government units.
|Mayor Dong Padilla|
Padilla was aware of the ecological problems posed by excessive use of mercury by gold operators in Mambulao whose operations are supposed to be regulated by the government’s environmental agency, especially the improper use of mercury in gold extraction.
Not only that, the gold operators have been dumping their mine tailings and slurry into the waterways, which end up in the coastal waters of Mambulao Bay, according to people who noticed the gradual degradation of the quality of the bay water.
They said that right now, the coastal bay water is muddy and looked yellowish-brownish, causing much of the marine life in the area particularly fish to disappear.
The summit, which was held on November 24-27, 2011, noted that in Camarines Norte and in so many other gold-rich regions in the country, a significant portion of a family’s income comes from gold mining.
In his commentary, Dan Abril of the movement Ban Toxcis! said: This is particularly true for areas where other forms of livelihood are non-existent. Thus, it is disheartening to see the government to continue to fail in providing much-needed assistance to this commonly-overlooked sector.
"The issue of mercury use in the small-scale mining sector in the Philippines is not simply an environmental and health concern.
“It is also a symptom of a broader problem, continued government neglect of the sector and the pervading atmosphere of corruption brought upon by this neglect," said Atty. Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics.
"The challenge for President Noynoy is to shine the cleansing light of law on the sector by helping miners formalize and accord them the support that's been too long overdue."
The national summit brought in speakers who engaged attendees with a variety of topics including a hands-on training on mercury-free mining methods.
The Summit was capped with a formal National Plan of Action and Declaration, formulated by the summit attendees themselves.
"Ban Toxics! helped us understand the dangers of mercury and helped us move away from its use," said Royce Lingbawan, board of trustee of the Banao Bodong Association (BBA) an indigenous group in Kalinga.
"We the indigenous miners and families that compose BBA in Kalinga are better for it, and we are hopeful that this summit and the efforts of Ban Toxics! will continue to help other miners in the country."
In Mambulao, where small-scale gold operators use mercury to extract gold, the degradation of waterways, creeks and streams have been noticed over the years.
Most of these waterways end up in the coastal waters of Mambulao, bringing with them muddy water tainted with mercury, alongside the yellowish mud that has spoiled the crystal state of the bay water.
These days, the coastal waters of Mambulao Bay have become muddy and yellowish-brownish as a result of the dumping of silt and slurry from gold operations.
According to a World Bank-funded study in 2006 titled Training of Small Scale Miners and their Families in Safe Handling of Mercury during Extraction of Gold in the Philippines, the small-scale miners (gold panners) in the investigated gold mining communities “release excessive amounts of mercury.”
The study said: They (gold panners) use in the order of 10 to 25 grams of mercury to recover one gram of gold.
On the other hand, small scale miners in other parts of the world use about one gram of mercury to recover one gram of gold.
The survey project investigated small-scale mining districts in the country that included Baranggay Calalugan in Paracale and Baranggay Luklukan in Jose Panganiban and Baranggay Gumaus in Paracale.
Every year, according the study, the gold-panners in Panganiban and Paracale released about five tons of mercury every year.
The report said the volume of mercury used has been confirmed by other previous investigations.
A report by the Department of Health submitted to UNEP in 2001 concludes that some 140 tons of mercury are released annually to the environment from small-scale mining in Northern Mindanao.
“These figures show that the old extraction methods presently used by small scale miners in large part of the Philippines create a ticking bomb for the environment and for the health of the Filipinos.