SAN SIMON -- A high reading of lead contamination was found in the soil and grounds of a smelting plant in Barangay San Isidro in this town, based on a study conducted by international pollution cleanup body Pure Earth.
Pure Earth, which has been conducting studies in this town since 2011, is a non-profit organization dedicated to solving pollution in low and middle income countries where human health is at risk.
In the site visit conducted on March 28 by the organization’s regional director for South East Asia and senior technical adviser, the surroundings, including soil and coating surfaces of the Celica Lead Company, tested positive for the presence of lead dust.
The initial site assessment forwarded to the office of Mayor Leonora Wong also revealed that even vegetables that grew onsite tested positive for lead.
The chemical found can enter bodies of people living nearby, especially children, through dermal contact, ingestion and inhalation, the study added.
“Additional potential pathways are through spillage of waste into and out of the facility, direct contact with slag and waste from the facility that is stored onsite or used as patching material in roadway, or from contact with the skin or clothing of workers returning home from the facility,” the study said.
Despite being classified as an industrial zone, the manufacturing plant is mainly surrounded by agricultural and residential areas, as well as a health center, barangay hall and a school.
A total of seven families, including nine children, were also found residing within the walls of the smelter where there was the highest reading of lead in soil of up to 100,000 ppm.
“The people living within the smelter walls are mostly at risk, but other readings nearby were also above safe levels and approximately 1,000 people are potentially at risk, including a health center and a school,” the study read.
It added that children are more susceptible as they are usually playing outdoors and do not often wash their hands before putting them into their mouths.
The report also revealed that before the lead company operated in the site, a used lead acid battery recycler also conducted business there but was closed in 2008 due to non-compliance with environmental laws.
But as early as 2003, an employee living inside the compound filed a case against the company after his child died allegedly due to the pollution emitted by the company.
Pure Earth is now recommending possible measures to address the concern, including a detailed assessment and mapping of the surroundings to determine which other public areas and homes are hotspots of contamination and whether ground water or crops are affected.
It also urged the company to upgrade its pollution devices to also provide protection to its workers who spend most of their time inside the company, as well as constructing a wall or barrier to prevent access for anyone except plant workers.
Published in the SunStar Pampanga newspaper on May 24, 2017.
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