TWIN POISONS: MERCURY AND A COAL BURNING PLANT
August 17, 2012 · By Fr. Shay Cullen
When Joseph Artemio, a poor fisherman living on the shore of Subic Bay in the Philippines pulled-in his net from the murky waters of the bay, he found a few small fish not enough to feed his family of six children living in a hovel along the garbage strewn beach. But besides hunger and malnutrition, any of his children could face a severe disease and deformity from mercury poisoning.
This week, experts from an environmental scientific research company, Berkman Group, contracted by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), conducting research into the status of the water and sediments of the bay, was shocked to find high concentrations of the deadly element “mercury” in the sediment and the bottom feeding fish. More research findings are due out shortly and feared to be as equally disturbing.
The more than hundred-year presence of US military in Subic Bay from 1898 to 1992 could be the source of the mercury and other heavy metals, researchers say. The military base was closed and converted into the Subic Bay Freeport Zone after a long ten-year campaign led by the Preda Foundation, a child rights organization, together with the Anti-nuclear coalition, led by Professor Roland Simbulan. Subic Bay cannot endure more pollution and contamination, concerned SBMA officials say. This level of contamination could be enough to prompt a ban on fishing.
The research, the first of its kind, is to determine the environmental state of Subic Bay and to test if the bay has any capacity left to endure and carry any more pollution because of a proposed coal fired terminal power plant that the SBMA says should not go ahead. Campaigners are appealing to President Aquino to relocate it elsewhere.
The presence of other heavy metals have been indicated but more sophisticated scientific instruments are needed to determine their exact identity and level of concentration. The initial finding of mercury contamination is alarming since coal fired power plants are notorious for spewing out mercury into the atmosphere and contaminating the waters that they depend on for cooling.
Subic bay cannot possibly sustain any more such contamination, experts say. They fear that the poison-spewing coal burning plant will add more contamination and drive away property developers, tourists and cause untold health problems. Desperate to reverse the almost total absence of public and social acceptability, (a key requirement to get all important Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) ), the company has resorted to “hakot” tactics.
To achieve the required social acceptability, the company behind the pollution-prone coal plant, RP Energy, (composed of Meralco, Aboitiz and a Taiwanese partner), allegedly paid for transportation, gave free meals and a day out for about 5000 people last 26 June at a convention center. But the event was joined by campaigners opposing the plant. With the slogans “No to Coal”, “Yes to Renewable Energy”, the campaigners, led by Alex Corpus Hermoso, claimed that many of the people thought they were going to a concert to see movie stars. Instead they heard lectures on how clean was coal.
During the gathering, the Zambales Provincial Vice Governor, Ramon Lacbain, made a speech saying the coal burning plant will end tourism in Zambales and Subic Bay. The campaigners have succeeded in getting a Supreme Court environmental protection order, Writ of Kalikasan, to uphold their rights for an environment free of dangerous coal plant.
Another alleged tactic decried by the “No to Coal, Yes to Renewable Energy” campaigners as an insidious propaganda is the so-called environmental education of elementary school children to so-called “Clean Coal’, which does not exist . However, for the RP Energy propagandists, it does and allegedly they show the children, a piece of washed coal and tell them to tell their parents that coal is clean and safe and gives them a brochure to bring home. This causes conflict in the family, campaigners say.
Coal burning power stations have a negative impact on the local environment, air quality and add mightily to the global volume of green house gasses that is causing the earth to warm up. Climate change is with us to stay and more frequent and severe storms and floods will be with us for a long time to come unless we phase out these disastrous sources of electricity and turn to wind power, sun power, and geothermal power.
The Philippines has an abundance of geothermal power sources because of the volcanic nature of the country. But the energy czars and politicians bypass it in favor of coal plants because there is more money in coal.
Sadly, greed is the driving force behind it all. Instead of caring for the beauty and integrity of creation and these beautiful islands, the corporate greed is damaging the air we breathe and water we drink. These are God’s environmental gifts, protecting them is to protect life and that ought to be top of our concern and interests. END