Abandoned nickel plant in Surigao poses health hazard

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/12 July) – Anticipating possible untoward incidents anytime soon at the mothballed nickel refinery located in Nonoc Island off Surigao City, health authorities here  are recommending the destruction of the old processing plant.

Dr. Emmanuel Plandano, city health officer, told reporters in the presence of Mayor Ernesto Matugas and other city officials that the nickel plant formerly operated by  Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corporation and later by Philnico Industrial Corporation, poses a great health hazard because of the presence of ammonia and other toxic chemicals that could possibly be released to the environment.

He noted, too, that the structure is old and could collapse anytime as the metals have already corroded.

Should anything happen to the structure, he warned, hydrogen sulfide could leak and would pose serious health problems, even death, to inhabitants in communities in Barangay Talisay, where it is situated, and neighboring Nonoc, Cantiasay and San Pedro.

Plandano said they are anticipating  a disaster, thus the need to prevent it before it happens.

The nickel refinery plant, which started commercial operation in 1974, had experienced chemical leakage twice sometime in the late 1970s, causing massive fishkill in the area.

After incurring heavy financial losses, the nickel plant was foreclosed by its creditor banks — the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines and Philippine National Bank – in 1984. Despite the foreclosure order, it continued operating and shut down only in March 1986.

Pladano said leakage had occurred while the plant was operational, and expressed fears it could be more dangerous now that it has been abandoned for more than 25 years.

Councilor Pablo Bonono Jr., who was among the officials who conducted an ocular inspection of the nickel refinery plant last month, said the structure must be dismantled.

He said that while the populated areas are about three kilometers away, there is still a possibility that residents could be affected by toxic chemicals.

Bonono noted that the technology used in the plant – ammoniacal ammonium carbonate (Caron) process that had produced nickel and cobalt products – is a “very obsolete technology.”

He said if another investor should take over, they would rather have the pressure acid leach process.

Matugas, on the other hand, told media that the city will reap the benefits if the said structure will be demolished.

He said the nickel plant owes the city government over P200 million in real property back taxes dating from the year 2000. But the Privatization and Management Office (PMO), during its filling of writ of preliminary injunction against the city government September last year, said the city government could not get taxes because the plant is now owned by the national government.

Formerly the Assets Privatization Trust (APT), the PMO held non-performing assets from the DBP, which included the machineries of the then Marinduque Mining Industrial Corporation and now Philnico Mining and Industrial Corporation.

But based on the resolution handed down by Surigao Regional Trial Court Judge Victor A. Canoy last June 15, the petition by PMO was dismissed for lack of legal and factual basis.

The city government is going to auction the machineries on July 16 for them get the taxes.

Matugas is hopeful that once the amount will be totally collected, the city will initiate the plan to materialize some developmental projects like the city library, new public cemetery, housing projects for the poor, among others.

Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corporation started the operation of the nickel plant in Nonoc Island in 1974.

After being mothballed in 1986, the Surigao Nickel Plant was to be rehabilitated by Philnico using the more recovery efficient pressure acid leach (PAL) process to produce intermediate nickel-cobalt sulphide products.

In 1996, Philnico and Nonoc Mining Industrial Corporation (MNIC) endered into an Amended Restated Definite Agreement which was amended in 1999 consequently to change the technology, some existing facilities of the refinery were rendered  as redundant assets. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)