Findings of the Environmental Investigation Mission (EIM) on the Impacts of the Philex Mining Corporation (PMC) Mine Tailings Pond 3 Failure

Posted:

July 4, 2013

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Executive Summary

The PMC TP3 breach that occurred in August of 2012 caused environmental destruction that continuously threatens the lives and livelihood of the immediate communities surrounding the mining operations as well as the communities that are dependent on the watershed ecosystems affected by the pollutants coming from mining. The following are the summary of the findings of the EIM conducted last October 26-28, 20012 with the objective of determining the immediate impacts of the mine tailings spills to the environment and the communities:

1. Mine Tailings Destruction - The immediate manifestations of the environmental damage caused by TP3 breach were the smothering of marine life thriving in Balog River and the junction of Balog and Agno River brought about by mine tailings spill. It rendered the Balog River and the confluence of Balog and Agno River practically biologically dead.

2. Heavy Metal Contamination - The mine tailings was also proven to contain heavy metals that includes copper, zinc arsenic and cobalt that were found in impacts sites, the Balog River and the junction of Balog and Agno River. Copper is the most prevalent heavy metal that registered high concentration in the junction of Balog and Agno River, the highest value is 4.5 times the threshold limit.

3. Prevalence of Various - Illnesses in the Community and other Environmental Impacts In San Felipe West, the community experienced headache, chest pains and skin rashes. Some gold panners in San Nicolas, Pangsinan who drank water from the wells dug up beside Agno river lasthad loose bowel movement and itchy sore throats during the TP3 incident. The communities from Sitio Pangbasan, an impact area of the mine tailings spill, observed the rise in river level comparable to flood levels during Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in the morning of August 2, a day after the first tailings spill from TP3.

4. Adverse effects on livelihood - Irrigation water from the river carried a whitish substance into the ricefields. Fisherfolks also observed decreased catch of carp fish right after the TP3 breach. Mine tailings spill rendered productive land contaminated with pollutants coming from the PMC's mining operation based on the account of the community from Itogon, Benguet and San Nicolas and San Manual, Pangasinan.

5. Violation of workers’ rights - Informants claimed that all workers, including the ill, elderly and physically incapable, were forced to report to TP3 facility and Balog River. Miners were also exposed to all kinds of hazards such as lack of ventilation and personal protective equipment, resulting in the death of two employees and several accidents. These cases often go undocumented and denied by the PMC management.

Based on the EIM findings, the following demands are being put forward to mitigate the threat of another environmental catastrophe to happen in the future ;

1. The decommissioning of TP3 is a justified and legitimate call because of the historical failure of the said facility's structural integrity. The attempts of the company to extend the life span of TP3, only exposes the people and environment to serious threats of another round of disasters.

2. Comprehensive and transparent assessment of impact sites must be conducted to trace the toxicity pathways of the mine tailings, laden with heavy metals and other associated pollutants. The proposed assessment is not only due to the August 2012 incident, but understanding the fact that the Philex Mines has brought on compounded impacts due to previous incidents of tailings pond breach that happened in 1981 (TP1), 1992 (TP2), 2004 and 2007 (TP3).

3. There must be diligent efforts to rehabilitate affected river and terrestrial ecosystems which should involve containment of pollutants, restoration of damaged parts of the watershed and monitoring of the extent of contamination in flora and faunal species. The rehabilitation must be undertaken with the goal of reviving the productivity of the fishes and crops in parts of Benguet and Pangasinan.

4. The compensation of affected communities and mine workers must be in accordance with the damage caused by the TP3 breach that affected their sources of livelihood as well as the health impacts that have resulted to lingering and chronic illnesses of the community.

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philex_full_report_2013.pdf2.69 MB