Friday, October 22, 2010

Warning aired over South Cotabato River’s high mercury content

The Tampakan municipal environment office has
sounded the alarm on the rising mercury content of the Pula Bato River
due to illegal gold mining operations which it said could affect the
health and safety of residents.

Eileen Estrada, municipal environment and natural resources officer of
the gold-rich town of Tampakan in South Cotabato, said the rising
mercury level was caused by sluice mining in the villages of Danlag,
Pula Bato, Tablu and Palo 19.

In sluice mining, unlicensed small-scale miners pour large quantities
of water on a mountain surface to wash out rocks with gold ore. The
miners then pan the ore and extract the gold with the use of highly
toxic mercury.

According to data gathered by Estrada’s office, the increase in
mercury level at the Pula Bato River, an important water source for
the town’s residents, started in 2008. The data was backed by a later
test conducted by Xstrata-owned Sagittarius Mines Inc.

Estrada said that in November last year, her office’s monitoring
showed that the mercury level in the river was 0.4 micrograms per
liter, or double the tolerable level of 0.2 micrograms per liter. Last
January, another test showed the mercury level had risen further to
0.8 micrograms per liter.

“That is way above the tolerable limit,” she said.

Estrada said her office was trying to remedy the problem by
intensifying the crackdown on illegal mining activities in the

Superintendent Rolito Pidlaoan, Tampakan police chief, said since the
crackdown started, at least eight people engaged in sluice mining have
been arrested.

Pidlaoan admitted, however, that illegal miners persist in their
activities despite the seizure by the police of some 30,000 metric
tons of ore.

He said miners have resorted to various ways of avoiding detection,
such as operating during heavy rainfall or at night.

Estrada said to boost the municipal government’s campaign, police
outposts would be established in the four villages where sluice mining
takes place.


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