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