DENR calls for fishing ban in mercury-contaminated Honda Bay
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recommended a fishing ban in the coastal villages of Tagburos and Sta. Lourdes due to recent findings of high levels of mercury on tested fish samples taken from the sites.
Engr. Alvin Requimin of the MGB and project manager of the Palawan Quicksilver Mines, Inc. (PQMI) rehabilitation project said shellfish and bottom-feeder fish species collected from the two areas were found to be positive for large amounts of mercury that have harmful effects on human health.
Requimin said they are waiting for an endorsement of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on their proposal.
“Dapat ma-ban ang fishing sa Sta. Lourdes at Tagburos. We are waiting for the Bureau of
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to endorse the fishing ban based on our results, but since meron pang pagdududa ang BFAR ay mag-co-conduct pa sila ng final testing,” he said.
Santa Lourdes has been the site of a mercury mining operation of the company Palawan Quicksilver Mines Inc. (PQMI) that closed down in the early 70s.
Last year, tests conducted by the MGB and the Department of Health determined various levels of mercury poisoning among residents of Barangays Sta. Lourdes and Tagburos.
Requimin said they furnished BFAR a copy of their test results since the MGB does not have the authority to declare or to recommend fishing ban and shellfish gathering in the affected areas.
Aquatic products, mostly seashells and some fish species within one kilometer from the shores of Sta. Lourdes and Tagburos, and part of San Jose were found to be mercury positive, specifically rabbitfish locally known as “danggit.”
“Lalo na nitong mga bottom-feeders na isda at seashells na kumakain ng sediments. Ang mga danggit ay may nakikita tayong mercury sa samples. Pero mahirap rin kung ipa-stop ang pagpanguha ng danggit. Paborito kasi ito ng mga turista,” he said.
Vice Mayor Luis Marcaida III said during Monday’s session of the City Council that shellfish sold at the public market are mostly from Barangay Babuyan and other outlying coastal villages in the north per certificates of origin issued to peddlers.
City Councilor Victor Oliveros, on the other hand, said based on the information from MGB, it is timely to pass an ordinance to ban fishing and shellfish gathering one kilometer away from their shorelines.
Requimin said the MGB allocated a total of P15 million, and P10 million had already been utilized to construct the perimeter fence for the pit lake in Sta. Lourdes.
The remaining P5 million will be used for slope protection and contouring of the abandoned PQMI mine site.
“Nilagyan na ng babala within the periphery of the pit lake para ma-stop ang pagpasok ng mga mangingisda doon sa lawa. Mapanganib ang lugar na ito,” he said.
He said that based on their records, 91 individuals have been found to be positive for mercury poisoning by their hair samples while 81 have the poison in their blood. All in all, 172 residents in both barangays are affected by the mercury contamination.
“Nasa utak na ang mercury at ang effect nito ay sisirain ang nervous system at ang utak. Gradual lang ang effect ng mercury sa human pero binabawasan nito ang buhay natin. Mataas na ang mercury sa mga pagkain na nasa pit lake. Itong mga gulay o fruits na may contamination ay nag-accumulate sa katawan natin,” he said.
Requimin said an amount of P10,000 is needed to shoulder the cost of the test for one individual alone which includes hair, urine, and blood tests.
“Kung bibigyan ng gamot ay dapat malayo sa exposure para hindi na sila makakain ng mga pagkain na contaminated,” he said.
Last August 3-5, 2018, the Department of Health (DOH) conducted a health assessment in Sta. Lourdes but it has not issued any result yet.
He added among the intervention that they have identified include remediation by putting insects and plants in the area that will absorb mercury and address the contamination within the pit lake and nearby affected areas.