BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) on Thursday expressed alarm over the “massive” copper contamination of rivers in the province as a result of the operations of Melbourne-based OceanaGold and has asked the government to stop the firm’s mining operations.
Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista said the results of an Environmental Investigative Mission (EIM) in the village of Didipio in Kasibu Town were alarming, raising concerns among environmental advocates and indigenous people.
“OceanaGold operations should immediately be stopped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to prevent further pollution, and should immediately hold these environmental criminals accountable,” Bautista said.
A network of people’s organizations (PO), nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and environmental advocates, Kalikasan PNE has been calling for a stop of OceanaGold operations in the province.
“The results of the mission reveal massive heavy metal contamination of the riverine ecosystems affected by the mining operations of OceanaGold,” Bautista said.
He said this is a “serious environmental risk that continues to affect the basic needs and livelihoods of the grassroots communities in Nueva Vizcaya.”
OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) is a local subsidiary of Melbourne-based OceanaGold Corp., which has a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with the government to undertake the multimillion-peso Didipio gold-copper project in Didipio Village, which lies along the mountain border of this province and Quirino.
The project officially commenced commercial operation in May 2013 after nearly two decades of exploration activities. It was expected to produce 100,000 ounces of gold and 14,000 tons of copper per year on average over an estimated 16-year project life.
Bautista said that the results of the EIM study on the pollution caused by OceanaGold revealed that the heavy metal copper “greatly exceeded” the maximum tolerable levels and was even 6.5 to 7.4 times greater than the safety limits for benthic (lowest level of a water body) organisms.
He also said that the copper concentration levels in the tested water was also found to be twice above the permitted levels for irrigation use and eight times the maximum level for the survival of organisms.
“These levels would severely deplete fish and shellfish populations, and stunt the growth and productivity of agricultural lands that are irrigated or flooded by these waters,” Bautista said.
He said the impact on the health and livelihood of communities, from those in the directly impacted sites and further downstream, as a result of copper poisoning will most likely worsen if OceanaGold continues its operations.
“These heavy metals and other harmful chemicals can accumulate along the interconnections in Nueva Vizcaya’s various ecosystems, which threatens its status as a watershed haven, biodiversity hotspot and potential agricultural center of the Cagayan Valley,” Bautista added.
Meanwhile, OGPI officials deny the allegations made by Kalikasan, saying they practice responsible mining operations and employ the highest engineering standards in the industry.
Officials said they are, however, conducting routine water testing with the use of state-of-the-art facilities so that they will be forewarned of any untoward incidents and be able to prevent any possible risk.