Covering pit lake in Sta. Lourdes seen to significantly rid mercury contamination

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Mercury Contaminated Lake at Bgy. Sta. Lourdes Puerto Princesa City. Photo by Jovelyn Godino / Palawan Daily News
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Covering the mercury-contaminated pit lake with filling materials in the abandoned mine of the Palawan Quicksilver Mines, Inc. (PQMI) in Barangay Sta. Lourdes is considered as a solution to significantly address the mercury contamination.

Atty. Carlo B. Gomez, City Environment and Natural Resources Officer, said that the source of the mercury contamination is the pit lake and getting rid of it will significantly solve the problem.

“Pag mawawala si pit lake ay mawawala rin ang pinaka-source ng ating problema na ang mercury contamination sa pit lake mismo,” he explained.

The health-threatening mercury pollution alarmed the public when on March 2, 2017, there were reported 107 residents assessed and were found to have high levels of mercury in their blood, urine and hair samples. Prior to that, high mercury levels were observed from Tilapia fish tissues.

Recently, the Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources allocated P29-Million in its 2019 budget for research and some bioremediation by planting trees and plants species, and insects that will also absorb mercury. The scope of the project are proposed study to determine the heavy metals contamination level, flora and fauna assessment, socio-economic and institutional impact of mercury mining operations, phytostabilization of landslide prone area, potentials of pill bills as zoo-remediators, phytoremediation of heavy metal contaminated water, and selected filter media for heavy metals absorption.

Atty. Gomez said that the project has more activities on research only and not for direct interventions that will solve the mercury-contaminated pit lake in Barangay Sta. Lourdes.

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“We are expecting that direct interventions should also be funded to solve the problem. We know that pit lake is the source of all contamination kasi nililigoan. Pero kung wala si pit lake ay walang isda doon at walang maliligo dyan. Kaya we should target na mawala si pit lake and after that, the bio-remediation,” he said.

Gomez further said that there are specific time when the water level in the pit lake are low that could be easily filled with earth materials to cover it.

Engr. Alvin Requimin of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the head of Task Force PQMI is likewise amenable with the idea of putting filling materials to the pit lake, and he said that large volume of earth materials will be needed.

“Yan ang pinaka-goal na matabunan si pit lake pero unang-una, ang problema natin ay panambak. Marami-raming filling materials ang kakailanganin nyan,” Requimin said.

He explained that they are finding ways to secure gratuitous permit for them, in partnership with the city government to extract aggregates from Barangay Bacungan which he describes as igneous rocks, and suitable to cover the contaminated pit lake.

“Itong sa Bacungan na aggregates ay yun ang dapat doon kasi porous siya. Ang pagtatambak din ng lupa doon ay matagal kasi tatambakan yun at e-ko-compact pa sya. Para gamutin si pit lake ay dapat gamutin muna dito sa may bandang Honda Bay, na may interventions doon na matambakan rin,” Requimin said.

He explained that they are closely working with the city government for the intervention in the coastal areas to minimize threats and exposure to mercury-contaminated sediments by initiating reclamation activity.

“It’s a way of healing. Yung mag-fill tayo ng lupa kumbaga reclamation activity just to capsulate yung matakpan ang direct contact ng tubig dun sa sediments. MGB is proposing a fund for that and we are closely coordinating with the city government kung ano ang plano to address itong problema sa coastal area hanggang sa Tagburos,” he further said.

The operations of the PQMI was a highly successful “open pit mining” operation of a cinnabar ore (inorganic mercury) in an area of about 20 hectares beginning in 1954. However, its operation was stopped in 1976 due to low price and prohibition/total banning of mercury in the world market.

In a powerpoint presentation from MGB, the company shipped 2,900 tons of Mercury (Hg) to Japan. There are about 1-Million tons of mine waste generated from PQMI’s mining operation that were dumped into Honda Bay area.

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