Issue of September 2, 2018
Mt. Province

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MGB orders final shutdown of BC’s defective tailings facility
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Cordillera has ordered the management of Benguet Corporation to start its final decommissioning plan for its tailings storage facility (TSF) no. 3 after it leaked and heavily polluted major water tributaries of Benguet that flow into lowland provinces.

In a report during the Environment Code of Baguio forum on Aug. 30, MGB Regional Director Fay Apil said the old TSF in Itogon, Benguet which the mine firm last used in 1992 discharged a total of 5,989 metric tons of tailings into the Ambalanga River, which flows into the Agno River towards the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan.

TSF 3 was damaged on Aug. 17 during the onslaught of monsoon rains in many areas of Northern Luzon. The leak was discovered on Aug. 21, as the color of Ambalanga River turned muddy.

The leak was stopped, but it recurred after two days. It was found out that TSF3’s old and rotten stopper boards in the penstock underground were not able to hold the tailings due to the heavy volume of rains. The leakage was finally stopped on Aug. 27.

Apil said BC is facing almost P300,000 fine, computed based on the amount of mine tailings that leaked into water systems. Based on MGB guidelines, a firm would be fined P50 per metric ton of leaked tailings.

She said the firm is also facing fines before the Environment Management Bureau for violation of the Clean Water Act, which provides the rules when total suspended solids (TSS) from mine tailings that contaminated water bodies exceeded the minimum limit. Based on EMB-Cordillera’s inspection, the TSS that flowed into the rivers exceeded the minimum limit.

EMB imposes a minimum of P50,000 per day until the firm is able to conduct remedial measures and clean up the pollutants.

The Clean Water Act further provides that  failure to undertake clean-up operations, willfully, or through gross negligence, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than four years.

“We told them to work fast and take advantage of the good weather. It will cost them so much but then that’s the price they have to pay,” Apil said.

The company will also be given a chance to explain its actions to the Pollution Adjudication Board.

She said the mine firm should already start implementing the decommissioning of TSF3 as soon as possible by doing rehabilitation measures on the facility.

Barangay and municipal officials of Itogon, which hosts BC’s mining operations, also inspected the site on Aug. 30 also said they will compel the firm to fix the facility to prevent further leakages.

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