Marcopper says no toxic substance in mine site
Marcopper Mining Corp. said it kept industrial chemicals commonly used for mineral processing in its former mine site in Marinduque province, belying reports from two government agencies that it stored toxic substances in its property.
But in a telephone interview on Thursday, lawyer Mario Espiritu Jr., Marcopper’s counsel, did not say why the company would still store large amounts of chemicals in its facility, when it already ceased operating in 1996 after its drainage tunnels burst and unleashed 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings into Boac River. The incident prompted the government to shut the company’s operation after what had been tagged by environmental groups as the country’s worst mining tragedy.
Marcopper has been seeking to reopen its mining operation on the island. Its appeal is pending in the Office of the President.
In a letter to the Inquirer on Dec. 2, Espiritu said what remained at Marcopper’s facility were industrial chemicals called “Aero 407 Promoter,” which were “not classified as toxic [in its] material safety data sheet (MSDS).”
He said Aero 407 was mainly used for flotation or for processing minerals like copper, silver and lead.
“There is absolutely nothing in the MSDS of this commonly used processing chemical that says it has Cesium-137 and Radium-226 as among its components,” the letter read.
The company was reacting to the Inquirer’s earlier reports quoting the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as saying that some radioactive materials were found stored at the Marcopper facility.
Roland de Jesus, the MGB regional director in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan), earlier said an inspection found barrels containing Radium-226 and Cesium-137 stored near Marcopper’s Balogo seaport in Sta. Cruz town.
De Jesus later corrected this information and clarified that the radioactive materials were stored in a different location within the mine site, while the barrels contained different types of “hazardous substances.”
Espiritu said the chemicals in several barrels found inside the Marcopper compound were “properly labeled” and were not hazardous substances.
The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) earlier said Marcopper had only four units of Radium-226 and Cesium-137, which emitted low levels of radiation and were safely stored in a vault. These materials are commonly used to control the flow of mine tailings or pipeline slurries during a mining operation.
The PNRI said the company could be held liable for keeping these chemicals when its license to store these expired three years ago. The company, as of Thursday, had yet to apply for a renewal of its license, the PNRI said.
Michael Drake Matias, regional director of the Environmental Management Bureau that works closely with the MGB in monitoring the Marcopper facility, said the agency was evaluating the results of its inspection to determine if the company had violated any law for storing the chemicals.
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