BUTUAN CITY - The Environment Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced that it will exert a sustained effort against illegal small-scale mining and stop the use of banned and regulated chemicals, such as mercury, in the mining areas of Caraga Region.

This came after water contamination was reported in Rosario town, Agusan del Sur mining fields where the presence of cyanide was found in Agsao Creek, Upper Consuelo, Bunawan last September 3.

Wilson Trajeco, EMB-Caraga director, said that reports received by his office indicated that the contamination came from small scale miners operating under a certain Mario Bacaron.

The EMB identified Bacaron as the proprietor of the Consuelo Small Scale Mining Association (Cossma) Inc., which is slapped with a cease and desist order on May 31, 2016.

A cease and desist order was filed against Cossma for operating an ore processing plant without permit and environmental compliance certificate.

“This time we will not hesitate to file criminal charges against Bacaron and Cossma for the blatant disregard of the CDO. We cannot tolerate violators who continue to undermine the safety of the community and environmental protection.” Trajeco said.

The EMB said that in their investigation, Bacaron admitted that they have been using cyanide and mercury in the whole cycle of their mining operations.

Cyanide is used to dissolve and separate gold from ore. Cyanide leaching is considered to be a much safer alternative to extraction-removing gold from ore -and mostly used by mining companies worldwide. However, small scale miners, particularly the illegal ones, continue to use mercury in some areas in the world, including the Philippines.

"Cossma, being illegal, their use of cyanide and mercury, which are unregulated, would result to poisoning our rivers and waterways and that would later be ingested by humans through contaminated fish and other animal food products," Trajeco said.

He said that the malpractices of illegal miners put communities at risk of being poisoned since they do not have the proper waste disposal facilities such as a mine tailings pond where harmful chemicals are deposited.

Trajeco explained that cyanide wastes can become useful when processed correctly. “Mix with hydrated lime, the result would be the production of urea, a compound, to fertilize rice plantations.”

He said that with responsible mining companies, the use of cyanide is well regulated and they have tailing ponds to ensure that contamination would be absent, especially in bodies of water near and around the mining sites.

EMB as part of their regulating the use of cyanide in the Caraga Region only allowed, per volume, 1,200 tons of sodium cyanide for Philsaga Mining Corp., per year and 1,500 tons per year for Greenstone Resource Corp.

Trajeco added that mercury has been banned and so its use is deemed illegal, especially in mining operations.

“But because supply of mercury can be sourced from the black market, illegal miners continue to use the substance in fast-tracking the processing at the mining site where they dispose of their chemical waste indiscriminately," he said.

The World Health Organization reported that mercury, when inhaled, causes harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. Neurological and behavioral disorders may follow inhalation, ingestion or dermal application of different mercury compounds.

Meanwhile, the indigenous peoples belonging to the Manobo tribe in Agusan del Sur, in a resolution, have asked the Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board and other government entities for the closure of Cossma tunnels and the dismantling of illegal ore processing plant at upper Consuelo, Bunawan.

“We have this big challenge to run after the illegal miners. They are armed and their mining operations are located mostly in areas where rebel groups are taking refuge. But we will not be cowed in enforcing environmental laws considering that we have the cooperation from communities and local government units concerned,” Trajeco said.