The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently raided four lead smelting plants and a used lead-acid battery (ULAB) recycling facility in the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija in a crackdown on informal businesses handling pollutive and hazardous substances without appropriate permits in Region 3.

At the same time, DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has directed concerned provincial officials of DENR to explain “why they should not be charged administratively for inaction” on the illegally-operating plants.

Paje, who ordered a nationwide campaign against illegal ULAB recycling facilities and lead smelting plants, lauded the investigating team’s actions.

“These businesses, being run illegally, deprive government of revenues and give unfair competition to those operating legally. Most importantly, they cannot be monitored effectively and pose direct grave threats to human life and the environment because of their haphazard disposal of hazardous substances,” Paje said.

The one-day raid, conducted on August 18, 2011 by an investigating team organized by DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations Ernesto Adobo, Jr., also led to the arrest and filing of criminal charges against two Chinese nationals, namely Chen Tian Xi and Jiajia Chen, for violating Republic Act (RA) 6969, also known as the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990. The two were alleged to be behind the illegal operation of an unnamed lead smelting plant in Jaen, Nueva Ecija. They were, however, released on August 20, 2011 by the Municipal Trial Court of Jaen, upon payment of bail amounting to P12,000.

Aside from the Chinese-run facility in Jaen, the lead smelting plants of Asia Pacific Resources, Inc. and Solid Lead, Inc., both in San Simon, Pampanga; and the ULAB recycling facility owned by a certain Roland Sumandal in Guimba, Nueva Ecija, were also each slapped with a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) for violating RA 6969.

The Oceanic Fishing Gear, Inc., another lead smelting facility in Meycauayan, Bulacan, was issued a notice of violation of its environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

Based on reports, the two Nueva Ecija plants were found to be operating without any ECC, permits for transport and for operating coal-fired furnaces, or registered treatment, storage and disposal facilities. Their pollution control facilities were also found to be “inefficient and ineffective”, allowing the emission of lead oxide in violation of RA 6969.

Lead smelting involves recycling lead acid separated from used batteries. The finished product is then sold locally or abroad for various uses, such as material for building construction, bullets, weights and soldering processes.

The DENR investigation team was joined by Jaen Mayor Santy Austria, members of local police headed by Major Resty Reyes, personnel from the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and members of the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force, in the inspection of the Jaen plant.

Paje described the illegal operation of the recycling facilities as “classic examples of wanton disregard of responsible management.”

Samuel Carpio, head of the investigation team, noted that the plants have been operating without proper treatment and disposal of lead oxide during the smelting or recycling process. Lead oxide poses harmful effects to the human body and can even be fatal if swallowed or inhaled.