5 steel mills accused of air pollution face DENR probe

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has ordered an immediate investigation into possible violations of environmental laws by five steel mills accused of emitting high air pollution levels that are detrimental to the environment and public health.

“Given the veracity of the allegations, the investigation must be completed as quickly as possible so that we can take immediate measures to address the problem and, if necessary, hold these companies accountable for their pollution,” Cimatu said.

The investigation stemmed from reports about the alleged labor and environmental violations of Pampanga-based Melter Steel Corp., Real Steel Corp. and Wan Chiong Steel Corp.; Metro Dragon Steel Corp. in Caloocan City; and Davao Mighty Steel Corp.

According to the labor rights group Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions (PAFLU) and environmental group Clean Air Philippines Movement Inc. (CAPMI), the air pollution at the five steel mills exceeded the maximum level set by the World Health Organization.

PAFLU and CAPMI had earlier lodged a complaint with the Department of Labor against the five steel mills based on their findings.

Workers of iron and steel factories are constantly exposed to a wide range of pollutants depending on the particular process, the materials involved, the effectiveness of monitoring and the control measures.

Detrimental effects of air pollutants at these working conditions can lead to deadly diseases not just to the workers but to the communities surrounding the steel and iron plants.

Acting on Cimatu’s orders, the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) formed a team to investigate the erring steel mills.

“Upon orders from the Secretary, we have formed a team that will be in charge of the investigation,” said EMB air quality management chief Jerry Capulong.

“Of course, the investigation is confidential and the release of information is sensitive but we have already started operations on this case and we will be expecting a report in the immediate future,” Capulong added.

Cimatu said the investigation should focus on possible violations of Republic Act No. 8749, or the Clean Air Act of 1999.

RA 8749 provides the policy framework for the country’s air quality management program. It seeks to uphold the right of every Filipino to breathe clean air by addressing air pollution from mobile and stationary sources.

The law focuses primarily on pollution prevention rather than control by encouraging cooperation and self-regulation among citizens and industries. It also enforces a system of accountability for adverse environmental impacts to heighten compliance to government environmental regulations.

Some of the programs or activities implemented to achieve this objective are: Linis/Ligtas Hangin Program with the Bantay Tambutso, Bantay Tsimneya and Bantay Sunog; industrial enforcement program for stationary sources; designation of attainment and nonattainment area sources; promotion of clean fuel; and strong collaboration between government and stakeholders on measures to address pollution.

Soon after he assumed the DENR post in May, Cimatu said that the strict enforcement of laws on clean air, clean water and solid waste management would be on top of his agenda.#