Four years after a massive spill at Placer Dome's Marcopper mine put some 4 million tons of tailings into the 26-kilometre long Boac river on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines Placer Dome remains uncertain about when the cleanup will be completed and about what the final costs will be. The reason Placer Dome faces ever rising expenses and cannot finalize the cleanup of the Boac River is because the company refuses to respond to persistent opposition in the Philippines to the company's plan to place the spilled tailings in the sea. For three years Placer Dome has insisted on placing the spilled tailings into the sea via a submerged pipe: a technology known as Submarine Tailings Disposal (STD) or, euphemistically, Managed Submarine Placement. This technology, while a relatively cheap solution for the disposal of tailings, contravenes section 36 of Canada's Fisheries Act and exceeds limits on suspended solids that may be placed in the sea as set out in Canada's 1977 Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations. It is for these reasons that STD has not been practiced in Canada since a short-lived exception was made to the regulations in 1981.
Opposition from Philippine Islanders, Politicians and Regulatory Authorities
In numerous petitions and resolutions, the people of Marinduque, through the local Roman Catholic Church, local NGOs and people's organizations, have expressed vehement opposition to Placer's plans to put the spilled tailings in the sea. Marinduquenos are still suffering from the effects of 200 million tons of tailings from Placer Dome's Marcopper mine that were dumped, via surface disposal, into Calancan Bay on the island between 1975-1991. In a recent statement (May 25, 1999) submitted to a Philippine congressional inquiry a fishermen's coalition stated: "Let us not forget the suffering of the residents of Sta. Cruz [Calancan Bay] who are now reaping the negative effects of the irresponsible acts of Placer Dome/Marcopper... Let us not allow Submarine tailings disposal (STD)."
National regulatory authorities have now twice turned down Placer Dome's applications for permits to implement STD. PDI's first application was turned down in 1997 by then- Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary, Victor Ramos, who noted that under Philippine laws and regulations, "offshore areas are considered to be Environmentally Critical Areas."
On 16 February 1999, PDI's second request for an STD permit was turned down in a letter by DENR Secretary Antonio Cerilles who noted, "Deep sea placement of tailings should no longer be treated as the preferred method for final clean-up in the absence of social acceptability as evidenced by the consistent opposition from directly affected stakeholders of Marinduque as shown below:..." followed by quotes from petitions by Marinduquenos to the DENR.
Island politicians, including the Mayor of Boac and the Provincial Board have also repeatedly expressed their opposition to Placer's STD plans. The island's congressman, Edmundo Reyes, called a congressional inquiry into Placer Dome's activities on the island in May of 1999 and now is seeking an independent review of Placer Dome's plans: "Placer has proposed the disposition of the remaining tailings spilled through Managed Submarine Placement...the Province of Marinduque had no direct participation in Placer's environmental study...the Governor, through the Congressman, has proposed to the DENR [Department of Natural Resources] to seek an independent technical review of all the options available for the cleanup, rehabilitation and restoration of directly affected areas..." (Draft MOA, January, 2000). An international team of experts is currently being assembled to review Placer Dome's studies and provide an independent assessment of how the tailings in the Boac River should be cleaned up.
Placer Dome's insistence on putting the tailings into the sea off the coast of Marinduque is irresponsible given Canadian regulations that effectively ban Submarine Tailings Disposal in Canada, it shows great insensitivity to the concerns and wishes of the most directly affected people of the 1996 tailings spill disaster, and it is negligent with respect to the interests of shareholders who are facing ever growing costs to the company as a result of the delayed cleanup of the Boac River.