Environmental contamination

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, March 17, 2014


WE WERE saddened by last week’s news that San Carlos Bioenergy Inc (SCBI) discharged toxic waste water into the sea thereby killing significant numbers of fish in the coastal waters off Barangay 1 in San Carlos City.

Renewable energy (RE) is a concept that we all support and it is upsetting when a respected RE company is responsible for environmental contamination which affects the livelihood of San Carlos fishermen and associated fish vendors.

SCBI is a company which converts biomass into ethanol. Over 30 million liters of ethanol were produced last year. There is an assured market since the vehicle fuel that we buy is mandated to include 10 percent ethanol. Good for SCBI, not necessarily good for the antiquated engines which drive our vehicles.

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SCBI’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) states that it should have zero waste discharge.

We respect SCBI for admitting its offense but there are aspects which are perturbing.

Arthur Batomalaque, head of the Integrated Waste Management/Pollution Control Division of the San Carlos City Environmental Management, reported that SCBI “assured us that they will find a way to prevent the release of the waste water into the sea again.”

Find a way?

This begs the follow up question: What happens to the waste water under normal circumstances? Any waste discharge is contrary to the ECC. Has SCBI always been discharging toxic waste?

Last year I mentioned the local San Carlos joke that it has become the “City of Smells,” an allusion to the foul odor that can emanate from SCBI’s plant.

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We wonder whether the pious representations from the RE lobby should be tempered with some well-directed home truths. Because an activity purportedly involves RE, we tend to think that it is a noble calling and therefore we should be supportive.

Contrarily, if coal is involved in any industry, we think in terms of environmental damage, both in terms of non-renewable fossil fuel, and that coal is inherently damaging to our surroundings, both via smoke and in toxic chemicals such as hexavalent chromium compounds. By focusing on the potentially damaging coal-fired electricity generators, are we giving insufficient attention to the RE industry? If so, SCBI’s activities need closer monitoring.

We need clean industrial processes, whether they use coal or biomass.

In any case, is SCBI a coal-free zone? Or is coal sometimes used to help speed the conversion of biomass to ethanol? We ask this because we note that in its submission to the international accreditation agency, Paris-based Veritas, San Carlos BioPower Inc. (SCBP) which, like SCBI, uses biomass, admits that it will use coal to a limited extent. In this case, will SCBP still attract the feed-in-tariff subsidy it is seeking?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is due to meet SCBI representatives this week to discuss the issue as to how SCBI deals with its waste.

If it transpires that SCBI has never properly adhered to the conditions of the ECC, the DENR has no alternative but to close SCBI down until it can demonstrate that it can meet the ECC requirements. Otherwise what is the point of having DENR?

We hope and believe that SCBI can address the environmental standards that are required for its operation, but it needs to demonstrate that it can make the necessary changes to deal with its waste.

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‘Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills. It is not the effort nor the failure tires. The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.’ - William Empson (1906-1984) ‘Missing Dates’ (1935)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 17, 2014.

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