Puerto Princesa, Palawan – The cases of “chronic mercury poisoning” have been documented in a couple of remote villages in the province, a joint research study of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Health (DOH) unveiled.
In a Health and Environment Assessment orchestrated recently, it was revealed that many of the residents in the Barangay Sta Lourdes and Barangay Tagburos, with a combined total population of over 10,000, have varying health-threatening levels of mercury toxicity in their bodies.
The barangays, both are located in Puerto Princesa, are both near an abandoned mercury mining site.
The report shows that after taking hair line and blood samples from residents in the aforementioned barangays in last March, 39.53 percent of those tested in Sta Lourdes and 33.33 percent in Tagburos were found to be suffering from “chronic mercury poisoning” and required immediate treatment.
These residents live near the three-hectare lake in Sta Lourdes which used to be an open pit mercury mining area of the defunct Palawan Quicksilver Mine, Incorporated (PQMI).
After exporting mercury to Japan from 1954 to 1976, the mercury mining site left the location in Palawan but its rehabilitation only started in February of this year.
The study also disclosed that most of the residents both in Sta Lourdes (76.40%) and Tagburos (86.66%) have raised mercury content in their blood stream. It was further diagnosed in the 91 hair samples analyzed, five (5) of which showed elevated mercury of over 10 parts per million (ppm).
Poisoning usually occurs through “mercury vapor inhalation, ingestion, injection, and absorption through the skin.” In the case of these contaminated residents in the said areas, they continue to be at risk of contracting mercury as they are exposed near the PQMI mine site, and continue to consume seafood caught in nearby tourist destination Honda Bay.
When long exposed to “any form of mercury,” any individual can experience annoyances in their “neurologic, gastrointestinal, and renal organ systems,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In response to the report’s recommendations, the city government of Puerto Princesa is working on the immediate relocation and treatment of the 74 families living near the Honda Bay who were long told to stop catching and consuming fish from that lake.
“As to the residents of the pit lake, we will find a relocation site. Phase by phase, we will relocate and we will look if the city government has an available site,” City Mayor Luis Marcaida III told the reporters.
In a statement on Friday, June 9, the DENR said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu ordered the creation of a task force Mercury in the City within the department that will tackle the chemical poisoning.
The task force will be composed of experts from different DENR bureaus, and representatives from the DENR’s legal department, its Mimaropa office, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Amongst the duties of Task Force Mercury is to “isolate and contain the contaminated area, know the people who can possibly be treated by the DOH, and run after the mining company to make them liable.”
Cimatu ordered the containment of the affected villages and the completion of a perimeter fence that will prevent people from fishing by the said lake.
The DENR will also consult and coordinate with authorities within and outside DENR to “ensure public safety.”