Negros ethanol plant suspended over fishkill
CEBU CITY—Environment authorities suspended the operations of an ethanol plant of Universal Robina Sugar Milling Corp. (URSMC) after finding that its untreated wastewater caused fishkill that economically dislocated 200 fishing families in Bais City and Manjuyod, Negros Oriental province.
Eddie Llamedo, spokesperson of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional office, said the ethanol plant in Barangay Tamisu in Bais could resume operations only after the company puts up mitigating measures and pays a P350,000 fine for violating its environment compliance certificate (ECC).
Bais is known for its thriving tours for whale and dolphin watchers in Tañon Strait, the largest marine protected area in the country.
URSMC officials promised to pay the fine and implement the measures, including the concreting of the perimeter of its containment lagoon, during a meeting with DENR, Bais and Manjuyod officials.
They said they would also undertake steps to eliminate the odor from the facility and activate a multipartite monitoring team.
The DENR’s suspension order came after the Alangilanan United Fisherfolks Association and the Alangilanan Small Fisherfolks Association filed separate complaints at the city environment and natural resources office of Bais after the fishkill disrupted their livelihood activities.
Their daily fish catch had been severely reduced due to liquid waste coming from milling and ethanol plants, the groups said.
At least 200 fishermen in the barangays of Alangilanan and Dunggoan in Manjuyod and Batugan and Tamisu in Bais were affected by the fishkill on June 20.
An investigation conducted by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau showed that the untreated wastewater was discharged from the ethanol plant to the nearby North Bais Bay, causing the fishkill. Test results of water samples showed that dissolved oxygen in four stations dropped significantly, Llamedo said.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional office conducted another test of water samples and found “concentrations of ammonia, carbon dioxide, alkalinity, phosphate, sulfide, nitrite, and nitrate exceeded the normal range required for milkfish culture.”
“The mortalities can be attributed to poor water quality in the area,” the agency’s report said.
The water samples were taken from the floodgate of the supply plume next to the discharge pipe lines, impounding lagoon, fishpond, and in the coastal area toward the North Bais Bay.
In its report, the BFAR team noticed that the impounding pond, where the wastewater was allowed to settle before draining to the exit canal, could not hold the volume of water during a downpour. The wastewater spilled from the pond toward the bay.
Further, it said, the pond’s dike was only supported by sandbags and used tires, resulting in seepage of wastewater. “Physical quality of water was turbid, frothy and with pungent/rancid odor,” it added.
The DENR also said there was no proof that the company put up a nursery as provided in the ECC or that an information and education campaign was conducted.
It said the ethanol plant was operating a wastewater treatment facility without a discharge permit, and had not complied with terms stated in the engineering geological and geohazard assessment report.