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MANILA - Philex Mining Corp. has started to dig deep into the cause of the tailings spill that led to the suspension in the operations of its Padcal copper-gold mine site in Benguet, but inclement weather in the area remains a deterrent, a company official told InterAksyon.com on Sunday.
In a telephone interview, Atty. Eduardo Aratas, spokesperson for the Padcal mining operations and Philex legal division head, said that as soon as the spill of the mine waste was contained on Friday morning, company engineers began to look into the source of the leak at a tunnel beneath the tailings pond which discharged sediments and water.
The company has already put in place temporary measures to plug the leak, and they will come up with concrete steps to completely stop it “the sooner, the better,” Aratas said.
“We are monitoring the progress day-to-day,” he said.
Philex will mobilize remote cameras to go down the tunnel and zoom into the source of the leak, the official said.
Equipment such as bulldozers, cranes, drill machines, trucks, as well as ramps, land bridges, and hard debris have been prepared as well, he said.
However, rains continue to pour in the area, resulting in fog and zero visibility, hence difficulty in surveying the damage, Aratas said.
The Philex official said that once the weather gets better and it becomes safer, their trained miners will do the probing.
Sediments that flowed into the nearby Agno River will also be surveyed by a chopper when there is fine weather, he said.
As to “possible sedimentation of the river,” the company will determine the extent. Sabi ni MVP linisin,” said Aratas, referring to Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of Philex.
Pangilinan is also the chairman of TV5, of which InterAksyon.com is the online news portal.
Philex had assured the public that the sediments and water that spilled from the tailings pond are biodegradable and non-toxic.
The Padcal mine has three tailings ponds but only one—Tailings Pond No. 3, whose tunnel leaked—was operational.
Tailings Pond No. 1 had been decommissioned, while Tailings Pond No. 2 is under rehabilitation.
But with Tailings Pond No. 3 damaged, the rehabilitation of the second tailings pond needs to be fast-tracked so that it could be used again as soon as possible, Aratas said.
Prior to the incident, Philex processed up to 27,000 metric tons of ore per day.
For every ton of ore mined at Padcal, extracted copper and gold comprise only less than one percent, the Philex official said. The pulverized, sandy-like residue or “tailings” are dumped into the pond to be mixed with water.
Due to the tailings spill, Philex voluntarily suspended the operations of the Padcal mine at midnight of August 1 as a precautionary measure.
The company had said in a disclosure to the local bourse that the “unabated heavy rains” brought by typhoons “Ferdie” and “Gener” during the past two weeks resulted in an “unusual and heavy” accumulation of rainwater in the tailings pond.
The firm immediately reported the incident to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and on August 2, the agency issued a cease operation order to the mining firm that will remain in force until such time that the safety and integrity of the tailings pond is assured.
In a statement released on August 4, Philex president Eulalio Austin Jr. was quoted as saying that the tailings spill had been contained in the morning of the previous day.
“Despite the heavy rains, thick fog and strong gusty winds in the area, our team has successfully removed concrete stopboards at the penstock area of Tailings Pond No. 3,” Austin said. “Since the mine continues to be closed, no further tailings are added to the pond.”
No injuries or fatalities had been reported as a result of the incident, Philex had said, adding that it was in close coordination with local government units and concerned government agencies.
With the temporary shutdown, the listed mining company stands to lose P40 million a day in foregone revenues, as the mine will remain closed until a full assessment of the tailings pond can be done.
Philex would also “unlikely” have a shipment in September, Pangilinan said in a press briefing last week.
Work has also stopped for the about 2,400 workers at the Padcal mine—majority of whom were involved in mining and milling and were paid on a daily basis, Aratas said.
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