Toxic mining-A A +A
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
THIS time, the bad guys are not the biggies but the small-time, penny-ante miners. Move over Maricalum Mining Corp. Right now, the environmental hot spot is not MMIC’s Sipalay copper mines but the small-scale mining operations at the border of Sipalay City and Hinobaan.
All that is gold does not glitter is a poem, wrote J. R. R. Tolkien for his epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. For several years running, small-scale miners bore holes and tunnels to look for gold and copper and use toxic chemical to extract gold.
“All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue,” said Plato. So true, as Provincial Environment and Management Office Regulatory Services Division found out.
There certainly is no virtue when toxic wastes are flushed into a creek that links the Bacuyangan River in Hinobaan, says a PEMO finding. These deadly cocktail of cyanide and mercury kill the freshwater food chain that includes fish and shrimps. The poisons could eventually find themselves in human diets.
PEMO estimates that in a hole, small-scale miners can extract 10 to 20 grams of gold from ores, with a gram of gold costing P1,700. But wealth doesn’t necessarily translate to health.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to mine and you could reduce many people’s lifetimes. PEMO’s Eriberto Madalag said that because of their limited technical skills in handling hazardous chemicals, the health of small-scale miners is put to risk, and have affected the environment too.
Mining increases the dangers of landslides. Madalag warned of a Compostela Valley accident in the making. At least 32 people, mostly small-scale miners, were killed when tons of mud from mountainsides crashed on shanties in Bgy. Napnapan in Compostela Valley on January 2012. Over 100 people remain missing.
Despite the warnings of experts, none acted decisively. Governor Arturo Uy ordered the evacuation of residents in the landslide-prone areas. However, the resident small-scale miners sneaked back to continue their operations.
Many lifetimes have been reduced by small-scale mining in Compostela Valley. In August last year, three small-scale miners were killed in a landslide that hit a mining area in New Bataan town. This was after the May 18, 2009 landslide that killed scores of people when heavy rains triggered a landslide in Barangay Napnapan and nearby villages. Barely a month before, on April 22, 2011, nonstop rains induced another landslide in Barangay Kingking. Thirteen people were killed.
One wonders why the Compostela Valley Provincial Government has been wimpy about implementing its forced evacuation orders. “A mask of gold hides all deformities,” so said English dramatist Thomas Dekker. Whopping revenues can make regulators look the other way with environmental deformities.
A Sun.Star Manila news report noted that small-scale mining operations have been ongoing for the past 30 years in Pantukan, one of the country’s sources of mineral reserves for export. Despite this development, the government has enjoyed billions of reserves from small-scale mining revenues. In 2011, the gross production value in these areas amounted to P26.6 billion, government data show.
Sipalay Mayor Óscar Montilla was once quoted insisting that the environmental effect of mining operations would not be an issue because they will operate in a far-flung area, far away from residential zones.
Another mental deformity hiding behind a mask of gold—or copper?
Physicist and ecologist Barry Commoner formulated the Basic Four Laws of Ecology that point out among other things that everything is connected to everything else—humans and other species are connected/dependant on a number of other species; and that everything must go somewhere, no matter what we do, and no matter what we use, it has to go somewhere.
In other words, ecology refuses to confine itself to far-flung areas, and will soon find its way to connect with residential zones. Can we wait for that to happen to our human communities?
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Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 22, 2012.