BUREAU of Customs (BOC) officials shrugged off complaints against the x-ray machine that will be installed at the Port of Davao for their health hazards on informal settlers living near the area.

"It has been approved by the Department of Health (DOH). The site was duly inspected and was approved by them after the inspection," BOC Port of Davao chief Anju Nereo Castigador said.

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The x-ray machine will be housed in a special facility that will prevent the exposure of the surrounding areas to it, similar to the set-up used in hospitals.

Experts had recommended a distance of at least six feet away from an x-ray radiation source. An individual must not get more than two millirem in an hour and not more than 100 millirem in a year.

The DOH issued its approval for the installation of the mobile x-ray machine inside the Philippine Port Authority (PPA) container yard.

It said the "anti-crime mobile linear accelerato" machine has complied with the "basic standard on radiation protection."

The DOH's Bureau of Health Devices and Technology (BHDT) issued the license to operate the said mobile x-ray machine on January 11, 2010.

But a report published last week showed that several residents and workers within the PPA area are asking the government to stop the mobile x-ray machine installation near the BOC office due to health concerns.

The group of 54 informal settlers even sent a letter to DOH Secretary Esperanza Cabral, appealing to the agency to stop the installation of the mobile x-ray, which will be put up at the passenger pathway of Sasa Wharf, just at the back of the BOC office.

The residents fear that once it becomes operational, they and the wharf workers will be constantly exposed to x-ray radiation that will affect their health.

Residents of the nearby Parola squatters and workers of the wharf also said the installation of the mobile x-ray inside the wharf is not necessary as there is already an existing fixed x-ray machine at the Acquarius Container Yard located just across Sasa Wharf and less than 100 meters away from the proposed site inside the wharf.

The installation of the mobile x-ray only in Sasa Wharf was also questioned since there are two other wharves along Davao Gulf where empty container vans are also unloaded. It was learned that Tibungco Wharf and Panabo Wharf are also accommodating about 400 empty container vans per month.

But without the x-ray machine in the two busy wharves, there is still no assurance that all empty container vans entering Davao City will be free of illegal drugs and other contrabands.

Mandatory inspection

Meanwhile, BOC Davao will soon implement the mandatory x-ray inspection on all empty container vans that pass through the Sasa Wharf.

In a February 3, 2010 memorandum, BOC Commissioner Napoleon Morales ordered Port of Davao District Collector Anju Nereo Castigador and Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, head of the BOC X-Ray Inspection Project, to immediately implement the mandatory x-ray inspection on all empty containers in light of the December 9, 2009 discovery of 16 kilos of high-grade cocaine inside the reefer machines of three "empty" container vans.

Last Tuesday, BOC officials met with various concerned agencies to discuss the installation of the mobile x-ray machine inside the Sasa Wharf located just a few meters away from the passengers terminal.

A BOC document sent to the invited officials stated that the mandatory x-ray on empty container vans will start on February 18.

What came as a surprise during the meeting, however, was that Castigador allegedly told the officials that the mandatory x-ray will be for free to the shipping companies.

The Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) earlier expressed apprehension on the mandatory x-ray on empty containers due to the additional cost.

In a text message, Castigador said the free x-ray examination will only be temporary. He did not elaborate. He also confirmed that mandatory x-ray will start on February 18.

At the moment, BOC Port of Davao has one fixed x-ray machine and two mobile x-rays. Each mobile x-ray reportedly cost $2 million. (BOT)