RP’s Biggest Gold Miner Accused of Dumping Asbestos-Containing Waste

BAGUIO, Philippines–On Saturday, officials of Mankayan in Benguet province notified the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and urged them to come down on the country’s biggest gold producer due to their throwing of hazardous substances into the town’s dump.

Residents reported that approximately six dump trucks unloaded what appeared to be construction debris from ceiling panels and electrical insulations. Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) admitted the dumping but denied the hazardous content of the waste.

Mankayan Mayor Manalo B. Galuten complained that the mountains were dug for gold and filled back up with hazardous substances. This was after the wastes dumped by Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company into the company’s landfill in Sitio Sapid were tested and found to include asbestos containing the cancer-causing amosite.

Currently, asbestos is a well known hazardous carcinogen. It consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage.

Galuten said his office got a copy of a laboratory analysis from New Zealand which confirmed that the asbestos dumped contained 10 percent amosite.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the asbestos containing the cancer-causing amosite was used primarily as a fire retardant in thermal insulation products in old structures, such as in ceiling tiles. It is now banned in most countries because it is highly friable.

The EPA explained that friable means it “crumbles easily when damaged, therefore releasing airborne fibers which can then be inhaled by those in the vicinity of the material, causing a cancer form called mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart.”

Mesothelioma (mez-uh-thee-lee-O-muh) is a type of cancer that can be either malignant or benign. The malignant type of Mesothelioma is the most hazardous form of cancer and may be deadly in most cases.

Byron Galuten, son and private secretary of the Mankayan mayor, said the dumping was first noticed in April 2008. Later, the local police led by Sr. Inspector Fernando S. Botangen confirmed the dumping of dirty white substances in black cellophane bags that were immediately covered with soil by a payloader.

Engineer Magellan Bagayao, LCMC resident manager, admitted responsibility but claimed that the waste was pads and cushions from the company’s Makati City office, which had recently been renovated. Bagayao promised that the “incident in Sapid will not be repeated.”

Servo-Treat President and CEO Dr. Eva F. Vertucio reported to have hauled 8.785 metric tons of soil and construction debris last October 14, 2008 and these were accordingly treated on October 19, 2008. The report also said that the materials were non-friable asbestos.

Samples were then brought by the DENR’s Regional Environment Management Bureau, together with the local government, to the Saint Louis University laboratory in Baguio City, where 50 percent asbestos contamination was found.

Samples brought by the LCMC Department of Labor and Employment’s Occupational Safety and Health Center in Manila were have said to have no material containing asbestos.

DENR representatives, along with Mayo Galuten, agreed to invite a third party, preferably from an international laboratory licensed by the National Credentialing Agency (NCA), to perform another test in order to gain accuracy.

Work on the said asbestos-containing debris had been paused until the third laboratory test is performed.