More than 20 years after the most damaging mining incident occurred in the province of Marinduque, the regional health office of MIMAROPA is working double time to address the effects of the disaster, the latest effort being the training in heavy metal poisoning by medical professionals and public health nurses.

Health care professionals from Palawan, also a part of MIMAROPA, and which similarly suffered from toxic discharge due to mining, likewise took part in the training conducted by toxicology experts from the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City, led by Dr Visitacion Antonio, head of the hospital’s Toxicology Department.

In particular, 24 doctors and public health nurses from the two provinces were trained in properly identifying and monitoring individuals who suffered health conditions from land, air and water contamination due to toxic discharges.

Further, the training covered how to establish a surveillance and referral system so people who have been affected are provided with the health care they need, MIMAROPA Regional Director Eduardo Janairo said.

“One of the problems in the region is handling the victims of mine tailing contamination. Water, land and air were contaminated, so this means plants, animals, including fishes, have been contaminated,” the regional health official said.

“Because of the effects of the mine tailings, the health and well-being of residents have been greatly affected especially those residing near the mining area and we have to know how serious their conditions are, and if they are really contaminated or not,” he said.

Dr Janairo said national government has left the DOH to address the health catastrophe, but efforts have been insufficient in the course of two decades. It was only in the last three years that focus has been given to the issue, specifically the health aspect.

The challenge, he admitted, is in managing people who have been exposed to contaminated elements. He cited that in one barangay in Palawan, at least 70 persons suffered from mercury poisoning.

One factor making it difficult to manage the problem is the cost of chelation, the treatment required for mercury contamination, which costs Php300,000 per person. Other than funding, the treatment will also become useless if the affected individuals return to the contaminated areas.

The DOH-MIMAROPA has recommended resettlement of the community, which the people are opposing. The solution, meanwhile, is to provide Vitamin C supplements to help in detoxification.

Heavy metal poisoning manifests in several ways depending on the type of contamination, according to Director Janairo. There are people who suffered from skin diseases as a result, while others developed mental problems. One family suffered from severe hair loss.

Health workers have been directed to conduct random testing in city markets as contaminated fish may find their way there.

The mine tailings due to the Marcopper incident in 1996 has made Boac River, a major water tributary in the province unusable, displacing many families who depended on it for their livelihood.

Another solution the regional health office has come up with to contain the contamination and rehabilitate the environment is growing local and Indian bamboo species.

The strategy is two-pronged in that decomposing leaves of the bamboo plants can decontaminate the ground of copper, lead and mercury, at the same time, the bamboo itself can be used make into furniture that can become a source of livelihood for the affected families.

The local health office has partnered with the Marinduque State College to put up a sampling nursery for bamboo species, which the DOH will purchase.

Following the training conducted in Manila, participants went on an exercise to apply what they previously learned onsite, and a toxicology training for village health workers and midwives was likewise provided.

“It is time that we provide solution to this health concern not only in Marinduque and Palawan but in all areas of the country where mining activities exists so that we can prevent HMP contamination and protect the health of our countrymen,” concluded Regional Director Janairo. MIMS

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