(Ottawa) “Our report tells how Placer Dome Inc. of Vancouver, built a million dollar mining operation on the tiny Philippine island of Marinduque and then abandoned it, leaving behind a toxic legacy that threatens lives today. We want Placer to take responsibility, clean up its waste and pay up what it owes,” says Oxfam’s Mining Ombudsman, Ingrid Macdonald.
For 16 years the Marcopper mine spewed toxic waste into a shallow bay, filling it with 200 million tons of tailings. When exposed to ocean breezes, the tailings become airborne and land on rice fields, in open wells, and on village homes. Locals call this “their snow from Canada”. This “snow storm” has forced 59 children to undergo traumatic lead detoxification in Manila. Unfortunately, at least three children have died from heavy metal poisoning. In the last 15 years a dam collapsed, then later a mine drainage tunnel burst. More lives, homes and livelihoods were lost. Although the mine closed in 1996, the remaining mine structures are so decayed they pose an immediate threat to the communities downstream.
Oxfam, an international development and humanitarian aid agency with projects in the Philippines was approached by Marinduque community members for help. Oxfam Australia’s Mining Ombudsman took their case and launches her report today detailing the mine’s impact on the island’s communities and environment. The report calls on Placer Dome to complete an environmental clean-up, adequately compensate affected communities, and take steps to prevent future disasters. The report updates similar findings made by the United States Geological Survey in July of 2004.
Taking responsibility for its legacy is one of the major issues facing the mining industry. “I lived with the fishing families and witnessed the mine waste pumping into Calancan Bay 24 hours a day. I saw them lose their livelihood and their health”, says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “As a Canadian, I was never able to explain how a major Canadian mining company could dump its toxic waste, then dump its shares, and walk away from its responsibility.”
“This is a clear case of a Canadian company operating abroad with impunity. Placer Dome would not have gotten away with their actions if they had been operating on Canadian soil. We must take action so that Canadian companies cannot do abroad what they can no longer do at home,” said Ed Broadbent, MP, who is in the process of drafting a proposal to the Sub-Committee of Human Rights and International Development that would ultimately internationalize the criminal code provisions of the Westray Bill that was adopted by parliament last year.
Placer Dome is the sixth largest gold mining company in the world and is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Marinduque Island remains one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.
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Oxfam’s Mining Ombudsman aims to assist communities where human rights and environmental standards are being threatened by the operations of mining companies. It also works to ensure mining companies respect the basic rights of communities affected by their mining operations.
The report is available on Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's mining campaign web page.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with Ingrid Macdonald, Catherine Coumans or Rieky Stuart, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada, please contact Deborah Chapman, Oxfam, tel: (613) 728-1942 e-mail: dchapman(at)cyberus.ca
Betacam footage, stills and personal testimonies are available.