Workers’ health at risk in Philex tailings spill
By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The health, safety and jobs of the mineworkers of the Philex Mining Corporation (PMC) in Padcal, Tuba, Benguet are at stake because of the spillage of poison-contaminated water from PMC’s tailings pond said Vicente Dilem, Kilusang Mayo Uno-Cordillera.
Dilem said that the PMC halted its operations in August because of waste leakage from the tailings ponds of the company that flowed to Itogon’s Balog River, a subsidiary of the Agno River. After the suspension of mine operations in the underground, he added that the workers were deployed to the river to clean up the mess. He said that the workers hauled up the wastes from the river and its surroundings.
From August 1-9, 9.9 million tons of toxic wastes were discharged from the Tailings Pond 3 affecting a stretch of 2.5 kilometers, 15 feet wide and 2-8 feet thick of the Balog river. The spillage have doubled up after another leakage occurred on August 30.
According to Dilem, these workers were exposed to the poisonous chemicals and fumes of the spillage. He also said that according to the workers who went to the site they talked with, they only wore company issued hard caps and boots as there were no other safety gadgets or clothes given to them.
“Delikado unay ta posible a masul-oy da ti angot ti kemikal ken exposed pay ti kudil da,” (They are in danger of inhaling the fumes of the chemicals and their skins are exposed too) said Dilem. One of the chemicals he said is cyanide which is poisonous enough to kill the workers. He said the underground mineworkers are working away from the possible dangers in the tunnels of the mine but they were made to work in another hazardous place.
According to an article posted in the website of the Association of Mining Industries written on December 9, 2010, severe respiratory distress develops once cyanide is absorbed by the human skin. The article stated that the chemical blocks the absorption of oxygen by the cells thus leading to the suffocation of the victim. “Exposure to high amounts of cyanide can be fatal to humans. Exposure to very low concentration of cyanide can cause cancer in animals or humans,” explained in the article. (reference: http://www.europamines.net/7-dangers-of-cyanide-in-mining.html)
Dilem also revealed that the workers have to travel a long period of time from their bunk houses or quarters to the site. He said that the extra hours that the workers are spending just to reach the spill area are not included to their working hours therefore they are not paid.
According also to Dilem, PMC is announcing that they will loss 30 to 40 million a day or around P220 million a month because of the suspension of its mining operations in Padcal. He said that the workers wills surely suffer from this. If the so-called losses of the company continue he said, there is a possibility that they will reduce the number of workers. Retrenchment may occur, he said.
KMU also challenged the officers of the Philex Rank-and-File Employees Union-Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of he Philippines (PRFEU-ALU-TUCP) to stop being mum to every issues affecting their members and instead look into the workers true plight and take a stand for them.Dilem also called for understanding and support from the surrounding communities of Philex and other places to the mineworkers.
“If a demand or any actions to close the mine site will be inevitable, the benefits and employment compensation of the workers should first be addressed,” Dilem ended. # nordis.net