Subic firm suspended

But US Navy contractor cleared of ‘toxic’ rap

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01:33 AM November 24th, 2012

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November 24th, 2012 01:33 AM

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has suspended the operations of a US Navy contractor that is undergoing investigation for dumping hazardous waste into Philippine waters.

After a meeting on Friday, the SBMA board decided to suspend the operations of Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc.

The board, however, reiterated its position that no toxic, hazardous, or domestic waste was dumped into Subic Bay.

Word of the SBMA board’s announcement dismayed Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee that jointly investigated the waste dumping with the committee on environment and natural resources.

Legarda said in a phone interview on Friday that SBMA administrator Roberto Garcia and the head of the SBMA Ecology Center claimed at the hearing that toxic waste was dumped into the bay.

Having determined the dumping from the two officials, the joint investigation concluded that Glenn Defense violated Philippine environmental law, not only by dumping hazardous waste into Philippine waters but also by dumping without government permission.

“It was clearly established that there was dumping of toxic waste,” Legarda said.

“How can they turn their back after the hearing? Let’s just see what’s on record. The Senate will come out with its recommendations by the end of the month,” she said.

Legarda said she suspected “lobbying” to save Glenn Defense from accountability.

Other contractors too

Garcia said the SBMA, on Nov. 17, suspended Glenn Defense’s collection and disposal of ship sewage in the sea using sea vessels.

Garcia said the order disallowing vessels to haul and dump waste into waters in the high seas also “applies to all other waste service contractors” in the free port.

“After securing the necessary permits as is presently required from SBMA for land-based disposal of sewage, all such sewage is to be collected directly from the ship at the pier and transported by accredited land-based haulers to be treated in accredited waste treatment plants,” Garcia said.

In the SBMA statement, Garcia also clarified that there was “no evidence that toxic, hazardous or domestic waste had been dumped [into] the waters of Subic Bay.”

But Garcia did not explain how the SBMA came to that conclusion.

In a press conference on Nov. 9, Garcia told reporters that the results of tests on water samples taken from Glenn Defense vessels showed that the water carried “sewage waste with high levels of toxicity.”

Garcia said the results “confirmed that [Glenn Defense] did not treat the waste, which it should have.”

In an interview on ANC on Nov. 13, Garcia confirmed the information when asked by “Headstart” anchor Karen Davila.

“Yes . . . it was the waste that was collected. And if you test the waste, of course, it will have high levels of, well, toxicity, if you call [it] that. And the levels referred to oxygen, etc., these are technical terms… fish will not survive in that because it’s concentrated,” Garcia said.

When asked by Davila whether the sample was “toxic waste,” he said: “No, because there are two definitions. That’s the problem on toxic waste. If you go to the dictionary, it means wastes that can cause death or [are] injurious to human health, and this will include nuclear waste, chemical waste and other hazardous materials. This is sewage, which is, you know, basically human wastes.”

The Subic Water and Sewerage Co., which was contracted by the SBMA to conduct the tests, did not test the samples for heavy metals because it was not equipped to do so.

Toxic wastes defined

Republic Act No. 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990, defines hazardous wastes as “substances that are without any safe commercial, industrial, agricultural or economic usage and are shipped, transported or brought from the country of origin for dumping or disposal into or in transit through any part of the territory of the Philippines.”

“Hazardous wastes shall also refer to by-products, side-products, process residues, spent reaction media, contaminated plant or equipment or other substances from manufacturing operations, and as consumer discards of manufactured products,” it says.

Wastes are considered hazardous if they are listed under the Classification of Prescribed Hazardous Wastes, which groups substances as wastes with cyanide, acid waste, alkali wastes, wastes with inorganic chemicals, reactive chemical wastes, waste organic solvent, oil, containers, immobilized wastes and organic chemicals, the law says.

Toxic wastes are substances that are poisonous and have carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic effects on human or other life forms.

RA 9275, the Clean Water Act of 2004,  defines hazardous waste as “any waste or combination of wastes of solid liquid, contained gaseous, or semisolid form which cause, or contribute to, an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness, taking into account toxicity of such waste, its persistence and degradability in nature, its potential for accumulation or concentration in tissue, and other factors that may otherwise cause or contribute to adverse acute or chronic effects on the health of persons or organism.”

In an earlier statement, Hernan Habacon, spokesperson for Subic Water, said the sample sent by the SBMA Ecology Center for testing came from a Glenn Defense vessel, the MT Glenn Guardian.

Beyond limits

“We tested it for domestic strength only, and the results showed that it was beyond the permissible limits. The sample is of industrial strength,” Habacon said.

“The result we sent to SBMA Ecology Center therefore is not conclusive whether the sample is toxic or not. But as per our standards, the sample was not fit for release in the environment as the organic content was beyond the permissible limits,” he said.

Retired Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga, Glenn Defense chief executive officer, earlier claimed that the US Navy pretreated ship waste and that it was dumped into waters beyond Philippine territory.

But the US Navy, which is also investigating the waste dumping, said the waste was not pretreated. It said it had no treatment equipment or facility aboard its ships.

Garcia, in the SBMA statement on Friday, said the ship sewage, which he described as “domestic waste,” was discharged by Glenn Defense in the West Philippine Sea, “far away from Subic Bay.”

He said the dumping area was approximately 32 kilometers from land “in the high seas, well beyond the 22 km minimum limit for sewage discharge set by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.”

Clear violation

After the Senate hearing on Wednesday, Legarda said it was clear that Glenn Defense “violated government regulations on various fronts,” including failure to secure a dumping permit from the Philippine Coast Guard.

“It was very clear that Glenn Defense Marine [Philippines] violated our regulations when it did not get a dumping permit from the Coast Guard,” Legarda said.

“Maybe there are other contractors too who are committing the same violation,” she said.

Legarda said a resource person from the Subic Ecology Center, whose name she did not disclose, “confirmed that the high toxicity levels of the water samples secured from MT Glenn Guardian could harm marine resources.”

She said her committee’s report would try to “pinpoint accountabilities and, if warranted, recommend penalties against those who may have violated Philippine laws and regulations.” With a report from Cathy C. Yamsuan

 First posted 11:45 pm | Friday, November 23rd, 2012

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