The Real cost of the Balili Property

Today’s post will feature a guest blog by Vince Cinches, anti-coal campaigner and executive director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FiDeC). Vince outlines the environmental and human costs of the plan of the Cebu provincial government for a coal ash disposal facility in a timberland area (Balili property).
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THE ECOSYSTEM OF DAMAGES

by
Vince Cinches
Executive Director
Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.

The reason why we in FIDEC, an institution created by and for the fisherfolks in Central Visayas, is opposed to the use of the Balili Property as a disposal facility for coal combustion waste is because coal ashes will poison and degrade the integrity of not just of the immediate marine ecosystem but the waters surrounding our island. This will therefore affect fish habitats, and fish population, on which most of the residents in the area are dependent for food and livelihood.

This negative environmental impact will not just limit itself to Naga, since fish catch in the municipality also supplies the needs of other towns. According to BFAR, 51% of our daily animal protein requirements come from fish, and that fishing is next to farming when it comes to the number of people being directly and indirectly employed.

Additionally, scientific data shows that coal combustion wastes or coal ashes, have high concentrations of 17 heavy metals including arsenic, selenium, mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, antimony, thallium, molybdenum, vanadium, nickel, and cobalt as well as boron, sulfates, chlorides and other salts.

Last December 2009, together with our country’s leading toxicologist, we sent to the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry (PIPAC) coal ash samples from the areas where it was dumped indiscriminately, which is beside water sources, residential areas, rivers, farm areas, schools, and even beside health facilities. The results revealed the presence of four heavy metals that include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. These heavy metals are known carcinogens, causing permanent damage to the central nervous system, lung cancer, and mental retardation among others.

Compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, exposure to coal combustion wastes is more dangerous a hundred times over.

As a logical consequence, the operation of coal-fired power plant in the area will not just impact our climate and health, it will also dump toxic wastes that will compromise the integrity and security of food resources. Among the animal species, fishes are the inhabitants that cannot escape from the detrimental effects of these pollutants (Olaifa et al., 2004; Clarkson, 1998; Dickman and Leung, 1998).

Last 2005, together with marine scientists and scuba divers, we conducted a Habitat Assessment with the objective of “inspecting marine flora or fauna within Naga waters fronting the plant and use the assessment to provide baseline information of the underlying coastal situation for other proposed power plants providing that they have the same preconditions as the present Naga power.”

The area surveyed measured at an estimate of 400m parallel to the shore and at about 200m across. Point transect was done in two sections, one at 30 feet (10m) and one at 20 feet (7m) where a 50m transect line was laid and read at every 0.25m. Temperature was also monitored from the surface level and at every 10m.

According to that data output, “the result obtained was homogenous all throughout the surveyed area. Sediment consisted entirely of silt that measured at an average of 10cm in depth. Marine flora is monospecific to the seagrass Halophila sp. Marine fauna was also limited to mud dwelling or burrowing invertebrates such as crustaceans and gobies. A lone Holothurian (sea cucumber) was also recorded at a depth of 20ft.” Visibility as observed was at 2ft or approximately an arms length at a depth of 10ft presumably due to heavy siltation. In terms of physico-chemical assessment, temperature did not vary as much.

Low marine diversity in the area may have been caused by excessive siltation as expressed by the locals. It is but natural however, that extreme thermal conditions cause more damage if not total destruction to the marine ecosystem. This is true to all areas affected by thermal pollution such that at normal conditions, water temperature only varies between 80 degrees to 87 degrees F. This is very alarming since the change in degree of temperature that occurred during the El Nino does not even compare to the water temperature discharged from the Naga power plant. During these episodes, any normal observer can literally see “smoke on the water” (2005 Habitat Assessment, September 4, 2005, Cebu Alliance of Renewable Energy (C.A.R.E.) Additionally, fish are widely used to evaluate the health of aquatic ecosystems because pollutants build up in the food chain and are responsible for adverse effects and death in the aquatic systems (Farkas et al., 2002; Yousuf and El-Shahawi, 1999). The studies carried out on various fishes have shown that heavy metals may alter thephysiological activities and biochemical parameters both in tissues and in blood (Basa and Rani, 2003; Canli, 1995; Tort and Torres, 1988).

If the Balili Property will be utilized as a dump site for coal combustion wastes, toxics and heavy metals from this property will not only jeopardize the mangroves but will also bio-accumulate in marine organisms such as fish, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, among others and will go up higher in the food chain, until it reaches us. . The toxic effects of heavy metals have been reviewed, including bioaccumulation (Waqar 2006; Adami et al., 2002; Rasmussen and Anderson, 2000; Rani, 2000; Aucoin et al., 1999).

Now it seems that mercury and other poisonous elements will be dumped directly into our waters, courtesy of the provincial government’s ridiculous intention to turn the Balili property into a coal-combustion waste facility. As we know, heavy metal contamination may have devastating effects on the ecological balance of the recipient environment and a diversity of aquatic organisms (Farombi, et al., 2007; Vosyliene and Jankaite, 2006; Ashraj, 2005).

The natural aquatic systems may extensively be contaminated with heavy metals released form domestic, industrial andother man-made activities (Velez and Montoro, 1998; Conacher, et al., 1993).

The fate of the Balili property is not just up to the court. It is also up to the people who at the end will suffer the effects of climate change such rising sea level and extreme weathers, as well as food insecurity, and unsustainable future, ridden with diseases, sickness, and death.

Quo vadis?

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