Prelude to legalizing mining: Mercury test done in Surigao City’s only watershed

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/29 March) — A test sampling to determine the presence of mercury in the rivers and creeks in Parang-parang watershed were conducted yesterday in preparation for the creation of a Minahang Bayan or People’s Small Scale Mining Area.

Surigao del Norte Governor Sol F. Matugas has requested the Department of Environment and Natural Resources- Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) regional office to conduct water and soil analysis in line with her proposal to put up a Minahang Bayan near the watershed.

Matugas earlier said having the Minahan Ng Bayan will help contain mining wastes if rules and regulations are followed.

SAMPLES. Gallons containing water samples from Parang-parang watershed in Surigao City are collected by environment agencies on March 28, 2012 to check if creeks and rivers in the watershed contain mercury. MindaNews photo by Roel CatotoThe proposed 20-hectare mining site lies adjacent to the Parang-parang watershed. If granted, it will legalize the mining activities of Nagkahiusang Gagmayng Minero (NAGAMI) near the city’s only source of potable water for local residents.

Nagami chair Ignacio M. Arevalo said the group has 1,003 individual members.

Mining engineer Noli N. Arreza, chair of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board said they took soil and water samples at Kanmahat Creek, Tagbasingan Creek, Hubasan River and Pinaypayan River, all located below Parang-parang watershed.

He said these samples will be sent to a chemical laboratory in Davao City for testing, and the results will be known in two weeks.

Arreza was accompanied by personnel from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Environment Management Bureau, Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD), Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, City Environment and Natural Resources and Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO).

Ivonnie B. Dumadag of PEMO confirmed that the sampling is part of the preparation for the creation of the Minahang Bayan.

She said the results of the sampling yesterday may jibe with the findings earlier released by SMWD.

Arreza admitted that the use of mercury and other hazardous chemicals was rampant during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s but that the small-scale miners have stopped using these chemicals.

He said that based on their observation and on the statements of the miners themselves mercury and cyanide were no longer used.

But early this month, the SMWD released a copy of a water laboratory test result showing the presence of mercury in water and soil in Sitios Pile and Hubasan in Barangay Mat-i.

In a letter dated 6 March 2012 sent by Benjamin R. Ensomo, general manager of SMWD said results of the analysis conducted at the University of San Carlos-Water Laboratory in Cebu City on 17 February 2012 show that mercury content in the submitted soil samples far exceeds the acceptable level.

Soil samples taken upstream of Sitio Pile contained 992 microgram hydrargyrum per kilogram, and those taken downstream 476 microgram hydrargyrum per kilogram. Samples taken in Sitio Hubasan had 2633 microgram hydrargyrum per kilogram.

“Based on the above test result, the level of mercury per kilogram of soil sample is significantly high compared to the Philippine National Standard of Drinking Water (PNSDW),” Dr. Danilo T. Jaque, a hydrologist, said.

“When these soil samples will be agitated and resuspended on the flowing water during runoff, it is very likely that it will contaminate the water supply system,” he added.

Jaque recommended the adoption of measures that will protect the water supply system from dispersion of such contaminants in its sources. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)