Surigao water utility to conduct mercury testing on humans, animals

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/8 June) – Whether there is contamination of toxic chemicals to humans and animals living along the Surigao River or not, the Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD) is bent to conduct a mercury test anytime soon to find out.

Benjamin R. Ensomo Jr., SMWD’s general manager, told MindaNews part of the water utility’s plan for this year is to conduct an assessment on humans and animals along the Surigao River which reportedly is contaminated with mercury because of the decades-long small-scale mining activities upstream.

Ensomo said he also received reports of a person living in the city who happens to be positive with mercury in his blood. The same person is allegedly working at the Caraga Regional Hospital here.

He however declined to disclose on where, why and how this individual got his blood contaminated.

Ensomo said the planned mercury testing with humans and animals will determine the extent of alleged contamination to those who live along the Surigao river.

“We’ll do testing to some humans who frequently go to the river, like the sand and gravel scoopers. We’ll test carabaos and fish, too,” he said.

The water utility official added the testing is part of the feasibility study on the planned 200,000-cubic meter impounding dam at Parang-parang creek.

Ensomo said Surigao river is being tapped as one of the possible water source for the increasing water consumers in the city.

Last February, the water utility conducted a soil testing in three sites around the Parang-parang watershed area. These are in Sitio Pile (upstream and downstream) and Sitio Hubasan, all in Barangay Mat-i.

The samples were then brought to the San Carlos University in Cebu City for analysis. According to Dr. Danilo T. Jaque, the resident hydrologist of the university, the samples showed that these were “extremely dangerous” to public health as mercury levels were found to be “almost 1,000 times higher than the Philippine National Standard of Drinking Water (PNSD) values.”

Further, he noted that although mercury was found in the soil samples, and not the water sample, he warned that “when the soil is agitated during floods, these mercury could enter into the water supply system.”

The report apparently sent an alarm to the provincial government of Surigao del Norte, which is behind the proposed “Minahang Bayan” (or people’s small-scale mining site) in the area now being protested by the water district.

The provincial government, together with concerned government line agencies, conducted a separate water and soil sample in Brgy. Mat-i early last March.

The samples were brought to a laboratory in Davao City for analysis at a laboratory in Davao City. Results however are not yet available as of today.

Meanwhile, Ensomo said the water utility firm conducted a recent water sample and has submitted it to a laboratory also based in Davao City.

He said the public will know the result of the sample soon. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)