CATBALOGAN CITY -- The Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corporation (Pasar) is due for a 15-day shutdown starting September 12, as it allegedly received several complaints regarding the foul odor emitting from its processing plant inside the Leyte Industrial Development Estate (Lide) in Isabel, Leyte.
Lawyer Noli del Rosario, senior vice president for Legal and Corporate Affairs of Pasar, said the shutdown will give way to a “search and explore” activity to find any possible leaks in the plant’s system and equipment.
Del Rosario said the Pasar’s anti-pollution protocols are “still in place and working," as he vowed to look into the complaints and address them.
People living near the area have been complaining of the stench, believed to be sulfur dioxide discharge, coming from Pasar's plant, saying this poses environmental hazard to the populace.
Also, about a hundred workers of its closest neighbor, the Philippine Phospate Fertilizer Corporation (Philpos), said that as per in-house monitoring, the ambient air surrounding Pasar's plant “has strong content of sulfur dioxide” and is apparently “beyond allowable level.”
Philphos and affected Lide officials have filed a series of complaints before the regional Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health, and local government of Isabel for a swift action on the problems caused by the harmful chemical coming from the plant.
Asked for comment, Del Rosario said Pasar is committed to complying with all DENR standards and regulations on emissions, including those related to sulfur dioxide (SO2).
“In the last month, some quarters have complained of SO2 emissions coming from Pasar alleging that these are of 'mild,' 'strong' or 'very strong' intensity. These complaints are couched in qualitative and subjective terms incapable of precise measurement,” Del Rosario said.
He added: “Pasar has in place a Continuous Emissions Monitoring System or CEMS which records SO2 emissions in real time. With regard to the qualitative complaints raised, Pasar has not exceeded the TWA (Time Weighted Average) taken over any eight hour period.”
The DENR, through the Clean Air Act of the Philippines, has set 0.07 ppm allowable level for sulfur dioxide discharge. But observers in the area said the initial ambient air readings at the area go as high as 6 ppm.
Health experts said sulfur dioxide is a non-flammable colorless gas that is heavier than oxygen. It has strong and pungent odor that causes irritation to the eyes, conjunctivitis and corneal burns. Long exposure can cause irritation to the mucous membrane of the lungs and respiratory tract, bronchospasm, pulmonary edema, pneumonitis and acute airway obstruction. It can aggravate chronic pulmonary diseases such as asthma. Moderate to high exposure can cause skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Those most at risk of developing problems, if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide, are people with asthma or similar conditions.
Glencore, one of the world’s largest diversified commodities trader, owns 78 percent of Pasar. It acquired Pasar from the Philippine government in 1999.
The Pasar incident contradicted the environmental policy of Glencore, which assures international and industry-specific environmental standards and requires their assets to undertake detailed risk assessment reviews and identify appropriate mitigation actions.
“Our assets continually review their waste management procedures and identify opportunities for improvement, to minimize the impact of the waste we produce,” according to Glencore’s Waste Management Policy. (SunStar Philippines)