EMERGENCY MEETING. Victorias City Mayor Javier Miguel Benitez (right) presides over an emergency meeting on Monday (May 22, 2023) to discuss the actions taken by the city government on the molasses spill involving the sugar refinery Victorias Milling Company in northern Negros Occidental. The City Council set a legislative inquiry regarding the incident on Wednesday, May 24. (Victorias LGU Photo)
EMERGENCY MEETING. Victorias City Mayor Javier Miguel Benitez (right) presides over an emergency meeting on Monday (May 22, 2023) to discuss the actions taken by the city government on the molasses spill involving the sugar refinery Victorias Milling Company in northern Negros Occidental. The City Council set a legislative inquiry regarding the incident on Wednesday, May 24. (Victorias LGU Photo)

Victorias City probes foul odor, molasses spill in sugar refinery

THE Victorias City Council in Negros Occidental will conduct a legislative inquiry on Wednesday on the foul smell caused by the molasses spill incident involving Victorias Milling Company (VMC), the country’s largest refined sugar producer.

The investigation has been set even as Mayor Javier Miguel Benitez called for an emergency meeting on Monday, following concerns raised by residents regarding the stench spreading in the northern Negros city, which gets worse at night time.

On May 5, a spill occurred when a molasses tank leaked, affecting Malihaw River and some 200 families in at least three villages.

"This is due to the increased heat that eventually led to the explosion of one of the tanks of VMC. It was six million liters or 10,000 metric tons in full capacity. I feel that our ecological sustainability and preservation, and the welfare of our people should be our top priority. When that happened, we deployed our Bantay Dagat personnel and made sure that no other humans, biodiversity, fishes or others be damaged because of this,” Benitez said in a statement on Tuesday.

Benitez said the VMC management assured the city government they will extend assistance to the affected families in Barangays VI-A, IX and XIII.

“They will provide 25 kilos of rice every two weeks and they also committed to clean up our rivers and deploy enzymes for liming so that the decomposition of the molasses will not affect the people,” the mayor added.

Councilor Dino Acuña, chair of the committee on natural resources, environmental protection, and ecology, said the City Council will convene as a committee of the whole during the legislative inquiry set at 2 p.m.

“Since Tuesday last week, we have felt the foul odor that has spread to the entire población (city proper),” he added.

Acuña said they have invited the representatives of the VMC, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Bureau, City Legal Office, City Health Office, City Environment and Natural Resources Office, and the village officials to attend the legislative inquiry.

Lara Ann Garcia, officer-in-charge of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, said her team found out that the sugar mill’s wastewater treatment pond was full of molasses spillage during a site assessment on Monday.

“The pond was overwhelmed. Aside from the regular wastewater, the volume recovered from the molasses spill was added in the pond,” she said.

Garcia said they met with the technical, legal and management team of VMC, who committed to finding ways to address the molasses spillage and eliminate the foul odor.

“Our office will continue to monitor and make sure the issues will be addressed by VMC and the problem will be put under control,” she said.

Dr. Richard Garlitos, city health officer, advised residents who have exposure or who have been experiencing symptoms due to seek medical attention.

On Tuesday, the VMC management said in a statement that they have “immediately set in motion (the) standard operating measures to contain” the foul odor.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused,” it said, adding that the procedures they have undertaken are “expected to address the issue in the next few days.”

The VMC management also assured the people of Victorias of its “continuing commitment to protect the environment and our community”.

“We will remain in close coordination with the city government and its environment officers until this matter is fully resolved,” it added. (PNA)

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