Coal ash samples from 2 Cebu plants 'safe'

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Monday, April 11, 2011


CEBU CITY -- Coal ash is classified as industrial solid waste and not hazardous waste, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Central Visayas.

The latest tests on coal ash conducted by the environment agency showed the level of chemicals found in samples from various sites in Naga and Toledo are below government standards.

“The public defendants reiterate that considering that the elements are below the standards, the coal ash is classified as industrial wastes and the governing law for the management of such waste will be Republic Act 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000),” DENR-Central Visayas lawyers Tranne Lee Digao-Ferrer and Rolando Luego told Mandaue Regional Trial Court Branch 28 Judge Marilyn Lagura-Yap.

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The samples did contain cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and mercury, but in amounts well below the limits set by RA 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Act, the lawyers said.

They submitted their report, dated March 22, 2011, to the court last week.

Since coal ash is classified as industrial wastes, it is the local government units that oversee proper handling and disposal, according to Section 10 of the Solid Waste Management Act.

The DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) conducted tests on coal ash in Naga City almost two years ago that showed similar results.

In its report dated October 27, 2009, it said the test “reveals that all coal ash samples that were taken on three various dates with respect to cadmium, lead and mercury are below the allowable standard set by RA 6969.”

The DENR lawyers said the agency conducted the latest round of tests “being the agency empowered to set the standards and to adjudicate what is environmentally-compliant or not.”

Where from

It took samples from alleged coal ash dumpsites in Barangays Ilihan, Dumlog and Kanlumampay in Toledo City as well as Barangays Pangdan, Central Poblacion, South Poblacion, Tinaan and Inoburan in Naga City.

The other sample sites were the premises of coal-fired power plants owned and operated by Toledo Power Corp., Cebu Energy Development Corp. and/or Global Business Power Corp. in Toledo City and coal-fired power plants owned and operated by Salcon Power Corp. and Kepco-SPC in Naga City.

The samples were received at the EMB Central Office last December 8, 2010 and were tested on February 1, 2011.

The agency used the Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) method, which is prescribed in DENR Administrative Order 36, or the Implementing Rules and Regulations for RA 6969.

The samples were collected by DENR-Central Visayas during court inspections last November 17 and 30, 2010, led by Judge Yap.

The judge conducted the inspections as part of a petition of environmentalists who asked for a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) on operators of coal-fired power plants.

Limited

This was intended to stop them from transporting any amount of coal combustion residuals or coal ash outside their premises. The petitioners alleged there is indiscriminate disposal of coal ash in the cities of Naga and Toledo.

A Tepo was initially issued in August 2010 and lasted for 72 hours. Judge Yap extended this after the ocular inspection through another court order issued March 15, 2011.

In the extended Tepo, Yap limited the coal ash dumping for operators and owners of coal-fired power plants.

Salcon Power Corp. and Kepco-SPC were ordered to use the two open coal ash ponds inside the Naga Power Complex, while Toledo Power Corp and CEDC were to use only the landfill in Barangay Landahan in Toledo City.

The power producers have filed motions for reconsideration, saying the prescribed dumping sites are not enough.

The environmentalists, including Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. co-founder lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, maintain that coal ash contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment and people’s health.

Next move

Included in the Tepo petition, aside from DENR, are the Department of Energy, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, the Provincial Board, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr., Toledo City Mayor Aurelio Espinosa and City of Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong.

In a separate interview, petitioners’ counsel Benjamin Cabrido said a supplemental complaint will be filed on coal dust pollution and alleged thermal pollution.

He referred to complaints earlier made by Mayor Chiong and residents that black particles have settled on rooftops and furniture, while raw coal was unloaded from a barge to the stockyard of Kepco-Salcon Power Corp.

He also said the Sea Knights provided him with a report of high temperatures taken some meters from the power-producing company that allegedly exceeded the maximum permissible temperature for corals.

“Any increase (in temperature) will result in dire effects on marine resources,” said Cabrido. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 11, 2011.

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