CNorte mercury use monitored

Photo courtesy of BAN Toxics
DAET, CNorte—In a bid to enhance the the public's awareness and involve them in addressing current social issues related to chemicals management, the use of mercury in the towns of Jose Panganiban, Paracale, and Labo in Camarines Norte has been put to the spotlight.

An advocacy group called BAN Toxics has been making rounds in the three towns to monitor the use of mercury and educate the public of its ill effects.

In an interview by the Bicol Standard, Sarah Marie Aviado, the BAN Toxics Development Program Manager admitted that mercury use is quite prevalent in Camarines Norte.

"Mercury is known to be used in the Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector not only in the Philippines but also in many places around the world. Based on the DENR-EMB’s 2015 Mercury Inventory of the Philippines report, they estimated that 300 metric tons of mercury is emitted from the country’s ASGM sector annually. The baseline study BAN Toxics is conducting will help improve on current estimates, as it will give a clearer picture as to the presence and concentration of mercury in the environment in Camarines Norte," Aviado said.

"Inhalation and ingestion of elemental mercury during handling and processing can result to health problems, which include pneumonia, bronchitis, chest pain, central nervous system-related diseases, and many more," she warned.

Government participation

Asked about the participation of the local government units in their project, Aviado said: "The local government offices of Jose Panganiban, Paracale, and Labo are heavily involved especially in coordinating the community visits and sampling."

Earlier this year, Mayor Dong Padilla of the municipality of Jose Panganiban said he believes that formalization of the Artisanal Small-Scale Mining (ASGM) through Minahang Bayan is key to addressing problems in the sector like environmental hazards, health problems, child labor, and working conditions.

Padilla also expressed support and confidence in the work that BAN Toxics is doing to formalize the mining sector.

"Madaling i-police at i-manage kapag legal na. Kung hanapbuhay ang standpoint natin, eh i-legalize na. BAN Toxics has the leverage to push for it because it's a widely recognized organization by both government and other development players -- walang adyenda at walang malisya so you have the authority and influence to push for its legalization. (We can easily police and manage it once it is legalized. If our standpoint is livelihood, we have to legalize it. BAN Toxics has the leverage to push for it because it's a widely recognized organization by both government and other development players -- you have no hidden agenda nor malice so you have the authority and influence to push for its legalization.)", Mayor Padilla said.

Furthermore, officials of the Municipality of Labo in Camarines Norte led by Mayor Joseph Ascutia highlighted the programs and projects that provide alternative livelihood to small-scale miners during the focus group discussion conducted by BAN Toxics.

Engineer Victor Zabala of the Municipal Environment Office emphasized local agricultural and educational programs that can provide long-term alternative options to the mining sector.

“Kahirapan ang isa sa ugat ng problema. Mayroon kaming farm-to-market road programs para sa agricultural sector at educational scholarships para makapagpatapos at makakuha ng maayos na trabaho lalo na ang mga mahihirap”, Zabala said.

"Meanwhile, the DENR - EMB Region 5 conducts quarterly monitoring of mercury levels in Mambulao Bay in partnership with the LGU. This study complements that effort and is being conducted as part of the CARING Gold project jointly implemented by BAN Toxics and the International Labour Organization, with financial support from the US Department of Labor, covering the areas of Labo and Paracale and USAID covering for Jose Panganiban," Aviado added.

Various government agencies are engaged in the project including DOLE, DSWD, DOH, and DENR.

"Results from this study will greatly help the government in identifying interventions that will be beneficial to the said communities," Aviado stressed.