Open dump seen as cause of lepto outbreak
OLONGAPO CITY—An overpowering stench greets anyone who approaches the open dump in Barangay (village) New Cabalan here, which residents have blamed for the leptospirosis outbreak that has claimed 11 lives and infected more than 500 people in the city.
Chris Cuison, 42, a resident of New Cabalan, said the city’s garbage continues to be dumped at the 17-hectare facility, portions of which have turned into a mud pit because of heavy southwest monsoon-enhanced rain in September and rain dumped by Typhoon “Santi” last week.
A source at James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital (JLGMH), where leptospirosis patients have been trooping to for treatment, believed the dump was the primary source of the outbreak of the water-borne disease.
The dump, which is 5 kilometers from downtown Olongapo, is in a hilly area and near the New Cabalan neighborhood. Residents said runoff rainwater from the dump would bring the garbage down to waterways leading to the city proper.
Cuison described the open dump used by the city government since the 1980s as “a factory of rats.”
“The rats grow as big as cats here. Sometimes, they even chase away the cats; that’s how big they have gotten,” said Cuison, 42.
“It’s been this way for a while now since it has been raining last month. Garbage trucks can’t get in [deep] into the dump because their tires would sink in the mud, so some of the garbage is left at the [entrance of the dump],” he said.
Scavengers were plodding through the mud in the middle of the dump when the the Inquirer visited on Monday.
Joseph Cubalan, 46, another resident, said rain in the upland areas of the city build up into floodwaters that flow to the city proper.
“When it rains, that’s always what happens. The water has nowhere to go but down and it carries all the dirt to the river,” he said.
In 2011, a portion of the New Cabalan dump collapsed, killing three people when rain dumped by Typhoon “Pedring” loosened the mountain of garbage in the village.
The JLGMH source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said he was “99-percent certain” that the dump was the cause of the outbreak.
“The floodwater cascaded down the mountain and poured into the river, and [dirty water] infected people who had exposed wounds or ingested the water,” the source said.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona, during his visit here last week, attributed the infestation to “poor garbage collection and disposal” in the city.
Cuison said the city government had plans to convert the dump into an engineered sanitary landfill but the project had not moved for years.
Mayor Rolen Paulino opposed the construction of the sanitary landfill in New Cabalan when he served as vice mayor. “It was overpriced and most of the money went to the purchase of garbage bins. I only inherited that [sanitary landfill project],” he said.
Paulino acknowledged that most of the residents suffering from leptospirosis came from villages along the river, like Sta. Rita, Banicain and Mabayuan, which are in the path of water discharged from New Cabalan.
Paulino acknowledged that the city’s garbage collection system is inadequate “because we have only three dump trucks and not enough personnel.”
But Paulino believed the contaminated water and mud came from a rat-infested abandoned mine in the mountains of San Marcelino town in Zambales province. The mayor had asked the Department of Science and Technology to look into his theory. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon
RESIDENTS believe the outbreak of leptospirosis in Olongapo City is due to the flow of contaminated water from this open dump in New Cabalan, which is up in the mountain, that cascades down into the river. Olongapo Mayor Rolen Paulino, however, believes the source of the outbreak is an abandoned mine in Zambales that has “a million rats.” ROBERT GONZAGA/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON