Cimatu: Albay quarry firms putting workers’ lives in danger

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has warned that quarry companies in Albay are risking the health and lives of their workers with their continued operation within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone around the restive Mayon Volcano.

“It seems that these companies are more concerned with profits than the welfare of their workers who endure the punishing conditions at the mining sites amid the volcanic eruption,” Cimatu said.

The environment chief issued the statement following reports that quarry workers were still hauling sand and gravel materials within the danger zone despite warnings from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).

The DENR regional office in Legazpi City had also called on the quarry operators to temporarily cease their operation due to safety concerns.

According to Cimatu, an erupting volcano could blast ash, lava, solid rocks and gases into the air, creating hazards that could hurt or even kill people and destory property.

“Our primordial concern must be the safety and health of all people affected by the eruption of Mayon Volcano,” said the former Armed Forces chief and special envoy to overseas Filipino workers in distress.

Cimatu, who visited Albay last Jan. 22 to check on the air quality conditions of areas affected by Mayon’s activity, had earlier warned against the negative impacts of volcanic gases, particularly sulfur dioxide, on the environment and human health.

He said that when sulfur dioxide combines with water and air, it forms sulfuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain.

Acid rain can cause deforestation, acidify waterways to the detriment of aquatic life, and corrode building materials and paints, he said.

In terms of health, Cimatu said sulfur dioxide could affect the respiratory system, particularly lung function, and can irritate the eyes.

Sulfur dioxide irritates the respiratory tract and increases the risk of pulmonary tract infections. It causes coughing, mucus secretion and aggravates conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Meanwhile, DENR Region 5 Director Eva Ocfemia reported that the total suspended particulates (TSP) have reached “unhealthy levels” over Ligao City and the municipalities of Camalig and Guinobatan.

Thus, Ocfemia advised residents in said areas to constantly use face masks to avoid exposure to harmful dust that may compromise their respiratory health.

Last week, the DENR central office in Quezon City sent 100,000 protective face masks and hundreds of relief goods to DENR Region 5 office for distribution to people in evacuation centers. ###