Two decades later, much of the damage left after the Marcopper mining incidents in the MIMAROPA region remain visible - muddy wastelands that stretch far, and blackened skins of residents who unfortunately came into contact with toxic tailings.
People in the area continue to suffer the effects of the mining tragedy as evidenced by health problems and the call for stringent environmental solutions becomes even more imperative.
1993 and 1996
Marcopper Mining Corporation first established its mining operation in 1969, with Mt. Tapian in Santa Cruz, Marinduque as its first copper mining site. The company mined ores, from which was extracted the mineral copper.
The process to extract crude or usable copper involves grounding the rock into powder and mixing it with water and chemicals. Copper will attach to the bubbles and be skimmed off. The remaining mixture is waste, known as ‘mine tailings,’ which are commonly toxic.
Marcopper mined Mt. Tapian and moved to San Antonio when the first site was depleted in 1990. They built tunnel and pit connected to rivers to contain the mine tailings. The construction was met with complaints and much resistance from the residents.
In 1993, seasonal rains gave way causing a dam built in Mogpog River to collapse. The waste water inundated the town, killed animals, rice fields and even resulted to two human casualties.
And on March 24, 1996, in Boac, the plug that kept much of the wastewater from the river gave way. Two to three million tons of mine tailings flowed into the 26-kilometre Boac River eventually prompting officials to declare the river dead.
The 1996 highly-publicized disaster devastated many residents living near the river. Twenty out of 60 villages needed to be evacuated, and 20,000 people were estimated to be affected. Many people lost their major source of livelihood.
Villages were hit with flash floods. The valley floor, agricultural fields and water livelihood sources were destroyed, even those owned by people who did not work for Marcopper.
Though the 1996 disaster worsened the situation, it brought vast attention to mining in the province.
The Philippine Mining Act, passed a year earlier, was considered too lax. The disaster gave way to its revision, paving for increased environmental protection.
Marcopper maintained that the water that flooded the villages was not toxic. Eventually, the company closed.
In 2005, the Marinduque provincial council released a moratorium which banned all forms of mining for the next 50 years. The ban was issued by the Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC).
Everything is contaminated
“We have a problem here in Marinduque,” Department of Health MIMAROPA Regional Director Eduardo Janairo lamented, adding, “I’m not against mining...the minerals are there for use, but people have abused those.”
“Everything in here, whatever you use, is contaminated,” said Director Janairo, citing “the water you drink, fish living in it, grounds, and even air - all of it is contaminated. Maybe at low levels - but over time, the harsh damages could accumulate.”
Further studies for the health and environment conditions to be confirmed are necessary.
The University of Michigan, in a study, noted that “the amount of tailings produced from mines in Marinduque is high because the ore is low grade - with only 0.44 percent copper. In effect a large amount of the rock has to be removed and ends up as waste.
Various villages in Mogpog and Boac have been severely affected and residents still suffer from the damages.
The entire scope of the environmental and health problem, if not addressed, could lead to a major relocation of all those living in Marinduque to a trio of islands called Three Kings nearby.
“After 1996, cases of malnourishment, mental retardation and persons with disability grew in numbers,” the Health official noted.
The regional DOH drew up a long-term plan into rehabilitating both the environment and the affected people. The plan includes the mine-out areas in Marinduque through the creation of a Carbon Neutral Garden and Neutral Park.
“We have to address all threats to life, property and the environment and even though the environment utilizes several means to purify itself - it would eventually find ways to purify itself - but it also needs our assistance to achieve it,” said Director Janairo.
For the environment,the DOH regional office partnered with the Marinduque State University to implement a programme planting a special type of bamboo called Beema in the affected areas to absorb toxic pollutants.
Presently, there are 25,000 saplings but with this bamboo specie that grows fast, according to MSU President Merian Catajay-Mani, they expect to multiply the volume of saplings to 100,000 within three to four months of planting.
Beema bamboo saplings have already been planted in affected areas in Boac and is expected to double in six months.
Dr Mani’s MSU is facilitating the research and is in charge of nursing Beema.
For the affected residents, the regional department is partnering with East Avenue Medical Center in Manila and the Rizal Medical Center to profile the residents’ toxicology status.
Local health units in affected areas have started receiving residents who complain of wounds that don’t heal, legs that turn black, and thinning hair.
After laboratory profiling they will meet with experts via telemedicine from two partner hospitals. MIMS
To be continued