MER­CURY RIS­ING?

10 fam­i­lies re­main ex­posed to mer­cury in the de­funct mine site in Sta. Lour­des

Palawan Daily News - - Front Page - By Harth­well C. Capis­trano

The once rich min­ing com­pany in Santa Lour­des, Puerto Princesa City has been a no-go zone due to the high level of mer­cury con­tam­i­na­tion in the pit lake, caus­ing health prob­lems to those who have been ex­posed in the area.

Op­er­ated by the now-de­funct Palawan Quick­sil­ver Mine, In­cor­po­rated (PQMI) in 1954 to 1975, the site is now a waste­land, brim­ming with high level of con­tam­i­nants.

Around 14 fam­i­lies have trans­ferred out al­ready to their re­spec­tive re­lo­ca­tion sites, but around 10 are still in the vicin­ity and as the days pass by, their ex­po­sure to the high level of mer­cury is in­sur­mount­able.

To some there are no health is­sues but the fact they are told about is merely a spec­u­la­tion to get rid of them.

“We have been here since 1980, but we don’t have health is­sues,” said one res­i­dent who asked not to be named.

“Di ako nani­wala. Kasi marami na ring tu­manda dito, pero hindi na­man silang na­matay dahil sa mer­cury,” she added.

Ac­cord­ing to her, there was a plan to con­vert the area into a tourist spot, but for her, it seemed far­fetched.

“Kon­tam­i­nado ang lu­gar, pero bakit gaw­ing tourist spot? ‘Di rin kami natakot; dito rin kami lumaki at tu­manda. Wag nalang ni­lang paal­isin kami,” she said.

Engr. Alvin Re­quimin, the Mines and Geo­sciences Bu­reau project of­fi­cer, the Depart­ment of En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources has been ac­tively pur­su­ing the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the area in co­or­di­na­tion with the Puerto Princesa City Gov­ern­ment and key stake­hold­ers to in­clude the Depart­ment of Health and the Barangay Coun­cil of Sta. Lour­des.

“MGB is do­ing the fenc­ing. [The area is] pre­vi­ously planned to be de­vel­oped as eco-tourism, but be­cause of the ex­tent of

the dam­age, it is im­per­a­tive to de­con­tam­i­nate the area to make it safe [first],” Engr. Re­quimin said.

On the side of the pit lake, just out­side the fenced area, a re­search build­ing is be­ing con­structed.

Few months ago, the MGB has re­quested a P17mil­lion re­search fund for the waste pit lake, but the re­quest was not yet ap­proved by the DENR Cen­tral Of­fice.

Engr. Re­quimin said that res­i­dents should vol­un­tar­ily trans­fer to the re­lo­ca­tion site.

“With the help of the City Gov­ern­ment, City hous­ing and City so­cial wel­fare – they have pro­vided al­ready fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and re­lo­ca­tion site. Around four­teen fam­i­lies have trans­ferred out al­ready from the area to the re­lo­ca­tion site.”

The 10 re­main­ing fam­i­lies are still in the area and had sig­ni­fied their in­ten­tion to va­cate the area.

“Out­side the perime­ter is not re­ally safe, since you are still ex­posed to the mer­cury area, how­ever, we have mit­i­gat­ing mea­sures that need to be fol­lowed by the res­i­dents there,” Engr. Re­quimin added.

“We ask them to co­op­er­ate with the mit­i­gat­ing mea­sures pro­vided by the DENR.”

Engr. Re­quimin said that res­i­dents should re­frain from planting veg­eta­bles that would later be sold or con­sumed as these would con­tain high level of mer­cury.

“Iwasan ang pag­tatanim. Iwasan ku­main com­ing from the lake and the coastal ar­eas of the Honda Bay, sa Tag­buros and Sta. Lour­des. The co­op­er­a­tion that we ask from them is most es­pe­cially if their ground is ex­posed to the area. They can plant or­na­men­tal plants and we also pro­vided other plants to help in the lessen of mer­cury,” Engr. Re­quimin quipped.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ex­po­sure to mer­cury, even in small amounts, may cause se­ri­ous health prob­lems, and is a threat to the de­vel­op­ment of the child in­side the womb and early in life.

There are three ways to be con­tam­i­nated and these could pos­si­bly through in­ges­tion, in­hala­tion and skin ab­sorp­tion.

Fur­ther­more, mer­cury may have toxic ef­fects on the ner­vous, di­ges­tive and im­mune sys­tems, and on lungs, kid­neys, skin and eyes. These would re­sult to im­pair­ment of vi­sion, dis­tur­bance in sen­sa­tion, lack of co­or­di­na­tion, im­pair­ment of speech, hear­ing, walk­ing, mus­cle weak­ness, in­clud­ing tremors, twitch­ing, and per­for­mance deficit on cog­ni­tive func­tion.

In spite of the press­ing is­sues that sur­round the pit lake and the nearby res­i­dents, Mr. Jovic Fa­bello, the spokesper­son of the Palawan Coun­cil for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment (PCSD) is hope­ful that some­day the site will be fully de­con­tam­i­nated.

“Ako na­man, parati na­man da­pat pos­i­tive. [We can] call other agen­cies to help [and col­lab­o­rate] with swift ac­tions and res­o­lu­tions. Let us not wait for the dis­as­ter to come. For now, PCSD is ac­tively help­ing the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and we are ready to help, in co­or­di­na­tion with the City Gov­ern­ment, DENR and other stake­hold­ers,” Mr. Fa­bello said. (With re­ports from Kia Jo­hanna Lamo)

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