BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has blamed small-scale mining operations as the culprit behind the chemical contamination of rivers in the province.
“The famous Didipio River in the mountain town of Kasibu was already biologically dead which can be attributed to the age-old small-scale and primitive mining practices along the area,” said Mario Ancheta, MGB director for Region 2.
In the 1990s, Australian mineral exploration firms found that Mount Dinkidi in the village of Didipio is rich in gold and copper, now being commercially mined since May by OceanaGold Corp., an Australian firm.
Also rich in forest and agriculture products, Didipio village, which is inhabited by indigenous tribes engaged in both farming and mining, is the subject of a boundary dispute between Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya and Nagtipunan, Quirino.
Ancheta said that “it is very unlikely that OcenaGold’s Didipio Gold-Copper Project caused the contamination of the river with mercury, which is a banned substance in its operation.”
“It is definitely not the large-scale mining; it is the small-scale miners who are using mercury in their operation that is causing the contamination and pollution of the river,” Ancheta said.
Indiscriminately drained into the rivers, mercury is allegedly used by small-scale miners to extract gold, according to the MGB.
In September, anti-mining groups have conducted a fact-finding mission claiming that the OcenaGold in Didipio, Kasibu and FCF Minerals Corp. in Runruno, Quezon have caused the “deterioration of the quality of water” along the rivers, creeks and streams in the area.
The Church-backed anti-mining fact-finding mission was conducted by Defend Patrimony, an alliance of environmental non-governmental organizations, and the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Vizcayanos para sa Kalikasan.
They claimed that the rivers and other bodies of water in the area, particularly the Didipio River, are already “biologically dead.”
”It is true. The river has actually lost its once-abundant fresh water fish species and that it is no longer safe for humans due to mercury contamination,” MGB officials said.
But Ancheta said that long before the entry of the large-scale mining, the water quality of Didipio River was already deteriorating and “the small-scale miners are to be blamed for the river’s sad state.”
Earlier a 2008-2009 Nueva Vizcaya State University study revealed that Didipio’s major rivers, Camgat, Surong and Didipio, were contaminated with the deadly substance apparently coming from small-scale mining operations.
Based on water samples taken from the reportedly contaminated upland rivers, the National Science Research Institute of the University of the Philippines confirmed the findings that the rivers were positive of mercury contamination.
Authorities had ordered small-scale mining operators to stop. However, various reports cite that they continue to operate due to the intervention of some government officials who are reportedly collaborating with the financers of the said operations.