SAN Miguel Corp. (SMC) said on Tuesday the health and environment concerns raised by activist groups against its power plant in Limay, Bataan are misplaced.
The company said medical missions that had been conducted, along with random testing on employees working at the facility and daily emissions monitoring, indicate that the new power plant has not caused the supposed ill effects to the health of employees or residents or to the environment.
SMC subsidiary Petron Corp. (Petron) operates the Petron Bataan Refinery in Limay using the new circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology, which does not require the burning of coal at high temperatures.
SMC medical missions conducted at a fully equipped medical clinic it built for Bataan residents showed that out of some 1,132 patients treated from Barangays Alangan and Lamao soon after the issue broke or around mid-January, only 9 percent or 107 were treated for skin conditions.
Doctors, as well as the Department of Health earlier, said these skin diseases were common and could not be attributed to the plant’s operations.
A follow-up medical mission before the end of the month yielded a much lower number of cases. From Sitio Pexsite in Lamao, for example, where some of the original complainants are reportedly from, there were only a few derma cases—three for insect bites, three for head lice, two with scabies, and two with hives. Cases of coughs and colds were also much lower at 41; allergic rhinitis, four and pneumonia, three.
Insignificant chromium levels
SMC also disclosed results of random urine testing done on employees to determine the amount of chromium in their system—an indication of possible contamination.
Results of the tests, which involved around 17 exposed employees who work inside the facility from eight to 12 hours on overtime, yielded insignificant chromium levels at less than 0.02 microgram per milliliter (ug/ml)—a negligible level that does not have significant effect on the human body.
Earlier, SMC released the results of recent emissions testing at the plant which showed that the new power plant has ultra low emissions, even lower than the standards required by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the World Bank.
Meanwhile, the DENR through its Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Central Luzon reported on Tuesday that two areas within the Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) complex in Limay Town are no longer used as bottom ash dump facilities.
In its latest inspection report, the EMB said both the temporary ash disposal facilities of PLT Cove and SMC are now covered with soil, compacted and sprinkled with water to prevent ash dispersion and deposition to nearby communities. The report noted that the PLT Cove area had already been planted with frog grass.
The result of the EMB inspection was reported during a recent meeting of the Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT) formed by the provincial government and held in Balanga City. In that meeting, Petron disclosed that so far, around 3,550 metric tons (MT) of ash have been hauled out and 7,950 MT have been treated.
It said newly generated ash is washed to reduce its corrosivity, after which a sampling of the washed bottom ash is undertaken. Treated ash is transported to SMC subsidiary Northern Cement Consolidated in Pangasinan, where it will be used as material for cement manufacturing.
Remediation, rehabilitation plans
Petron also revealed its remediation and rehabilitation plans for the PLT Cove area, mitigation measures for odor nuisance, and relocation of affected families.
The provincial government assured that there would be available housing for 250 affected families within the next three to five months. Governor Abe Garcia said informal settlers within the SMC’s buffer zone would be given priority.
The establishment of Environmental Guarantee Fund (EGF) was also discussed during the meeting. The fund would be used for an epidemiological study or health assessment that will be done in affected communities.
The cost of the study would be sourced from the EGF of Petron and SMC, pursuant to existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) rules and regulations.
The EMB Central Luzon, on the other hand, will continue to assess the environmental quality on affected communities in Limay.