Surigao Norte town to probe gas leak from nickel processing plant

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CLAVER, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 23 Apr) – The municipal government of Claver, through the municipal council, will be conducting an investigation on the pre-dawn gas leak from a nickel processing plant in Surigao del Norte, where residents complained of nausea and headache, with six of them rushed to the hospital.

Municipal administrator Ernesto P. Sulapas told MindaNews Wednesday that the gas leak at Barangay Taganito occurred 3:12 a.m. last April 14.

Taganito High Pressure Acid Leaching Nickel Corporation (THPAL) acknowledged the leak to the media the day after.

“The company will be summoned by the municipal council and they have to explain what really happened last week,” Sulapas said.

“Several persons suffered headache and nausea and there were reportedly six people who were rushed to the hospital,” he added.

Sulapas said the company had sent its entire medical staff to the suffering villagers.

Claver Mayor Eddie Gokiangkee and the local health unit, Sulapas said, also responded by dawn.

THPAL said that based on their preliminary investigation, it was learned that the leak may have been “due to a closed electronic isolation valve which may not have been completely closed for some reason.”

The company produces mixed sulfides of nickel and cobalt from low-grade ore through a process called high-pressure acid leaching (HPAL). The process entails the use of hydrogen sulfide ­– a poisonous substance – and other chemicals.

From its multi-stage scrubber facility, the company said a “small residual volume” of hydrogen sulfide had reached the community in Barangay Taganito, where its plant is located, particularly Puroks 1, 3, 4 and 5.

The leak occurred during the “purging activity” in its multi-stage reactors, the company said.

As a result, the leak released hydrogen sulfide into the air at the levels of around “4-5 PPM” (parts per million), or 6 to 7.5 milligram per cubic meter.

The company claimed such levels are within the emission standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

It acknowledged, however, that the residents “affected by the leak complained of nausea and headaches.” The company said “countermeasures were immediately taken and the situation is back to normal and safe condition.”

It said consultations with the affected residents and local officials were immediately conducted, while medicines were dispensed to those who experienced discomforts.

The company also asked for apologies, saying it was “confident that incidents like this will be eliminated in the future.”

“The company will exert its best efforts to coexist safely and progressively with everybody in the community,” it added.

On July 4, 2013 people in Taganito also panicked as the company emitted foul odor when it was commissioned for testing.

THPAL started its commercial operations on September 4, 2013 and has a lifespan of 30 years. It is a joint venture of Sumitomo Metal Mining, Nickel Asia Corporation and Mitsui Corporation.

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