Cebu Government Urged to Drop Plan for Coal Ash Dumpsite

Quezon City. A waste and pollution watchdog slammed a controversial plan by the provincial government of Cebu to set up a dumpsite by the beach for coal combustion waste or what is commonly known as coal ash.

In a letter faxed to the offices of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Vice-Gov. Gregorio Sanchez, Jr., the EcoWaste Coalition expressed its “profound objection” against the planned dumping of coal ash at the government-owned Balili Beach Resort in Naga City (Cebu).

The dumpsite is intended for the tons of coal combustion waste from the expanded 200-megawatt coal power plant of the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) in Naga City that is set to operate by February 2011. KEPCO will pay US$1 million to the provincial government for the permit to dump.

The letter from the Quezon City-based environmental alliance against chemical contamination bolsters the opposition lodged by Cebu law faculty Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos and Atty. Benjamin Cabrido who have earlier scored the officials for engaging in the business of coal ash dumping.

“In the greater interest of human and ecological health, we urge the government of Cebu to apply the precautionary principle, reconsider its coal ash deal with KEPCO, and prevent a potential chemical crisis that might even cost beyond the US$1 million promised by the company,” Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste, wrote in his letter.

“We urge the government of Cebu to learn from the unfolding health and environmental problems in US due to the toxic releases from coal combustion waste ponds, pits, dumpsites and landfills, some of which have been declared as Superfund sites or toxic waste sites requiring very
costly cleanups,” he added.

The EcoWaste Coalition pointed out that coal combustion byproducts are not exactly benign waste as these can contain dangerous levels of harmful chemicals associated with cancer and non-cancer risks such as arsenic, boron, cadmium, cobalt, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nitrates/nitrites, and selenium.

The group cited a Greenpeace Southeast Asia study of ash samples from the coal-fired power plant of the National Power Corp. in Calaca, Batangas that tested positive with mercury, a toxic metal, which prompted then Senator Sergio Osmeña to describe the detection of mercury in the coal ash as “an environmental disaster which I would not wish on anyone.”

In their letter to the Cebu officials, the EcoWaste Coalition questioned the capability of the provincial and city authorities to monitor, regulate and mitigate the adverse effects of coal ash dumping to ensure the long-term health and safety of the Cebuanos, the water supplies and the
marine resources.

Citing a report released in March 2009 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized that the disposal of coal ash, especially in unlined ponds, results in alarmingly high risks of cancer and diseases of the heart, lung, liver, stomach and other organs
and can seriously harm aquatic ecosystems and wildlife near disposal sites.

In the same report, the EPA warned that contamination from coal ash ponds will not peak until about 78 to 105 years after waste is dumped, while peak exposure from landfills may occur after even longer periods of time.

According to the US-based advocacy groups Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “the EPA’s risk assessment clearly establishes that unlined coal ash disposal sites—wet and dry—are hazardous to human health and the environment, posing unacceptably high cancer and noncancer risks to those living nearby and poisoning aquatic life of adjacent water bodies with bioaccumulative poisons.”

In view of the climate crisis, the EcoWaste Coalition furtJustify Fullher urged Gov. Garcia and the provincial leaders “to walk away from fossil fuels and take decisive steps to implement renewable energy options in light of the changing climate.”

“You owe it to all Cebuanos and to all of us, Filipinos, to cut the toxic emissions from the free-for-all combustion of fossil fuels like coal that is already inflicting harm to our people and to our fragile nation and planet,” the Coalition stressed.