Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Environmentalists warn of harmful emissions from coal plant

Froilan Gallardo

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- Emissions at the proposed Mindanao Coal-fired Thermal
Plant in Misamis Oriental could carry heavy concentrations of “harmful” chemicals,
sulphur and nitrogen dioxides, environmentalists here said.

This is because pollution control measures at the controversial coal plant are not up to “international standards,” according to the People’s Campaign against the Mindanao Coal Plant (Camp).

The group came to this conclusion after comparing the environmental structural designs of the coal plant with those in Japan. Japan has the most advanced pollution control measures in the world. Its three coal plants, Nakoso, Niichi and Hekinan, has desulphurization, denitrogenization and electric dust chambers to stop pollution.

Kim Gargar, Camp spokesperson said airborne emissions at the proposed Mindanao Coal
Plant will carry five times more of sodium dioxide; eight times as much of nitrogen
dioxide compared to the Japanese coal plants. He said the controversial coal plant in Tagoloan town is not adopting any of the anti-pollution measures that are being implemented in the Japanese coal plants.

“The pollution will sure have adverse effects on every life form in Cagayan de Oro City and Misamis Oriental,” said Gargar, who also chairs the physics department at the Mindanao Polytechnic State College here.

MindaNews tried to contact the management of State Power Development Corporation (SPDC), the firm that will oversee the operations of the 210-mw coal plant, but was informed by a source close to the company, that officials will issue a statement on the matter next week.

Two years ago, the government-owned Transmission Corporation (Transco) took the cudgels for SPDC officials in answering the environmental issues raised by the anti-coal plant activists. MindaNews phoned Ghaye Alegrio, SPDC operations officer, but Alegrio’s phone just kept ringing. Engr. Lorrymir Adaza, Transco chief, then said SPDC officials have assured them that the anti-pollution devises at the coal plant will follow international environmental standards.

Gargar said they based their conclusions on the environmental structural designs submitted by builders of the coal plant, German firms, KFW Bankengruppe and Steag
Electric Systems, to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He said they then compared it with those of the Japanese coal plants. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sodium and nitrogen dioxides act as precursor of acid rain, which can kill aquatic organisms, damage the habitat and erode buildings.

The EPA said sulphur dioxide is not usually absorbed by vegetation, but passes through the soil in the form of sulphate. A preliminary risk assessment made by EPA on the coal plants in the US said health risks are greater on mothers who consume large amounts of fish caught around coal plants. The US agency said children will suffer loss of cognitive abilities like language and motor skills. Respiratory illness, alterations in pulmonary defenses and aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease are among the health concerns listed by the EPA on coal plants. The US government has strictly required coal plants especially those built in the 50s, 60s and the 70s to adopt expensive anti-pollution control measures.

The Environmental Legal Assistance Center (Elac) in Cebu City, which is also opposing a similar coal plant project in that city, identified six other renewable sources of energy, which the Philippine government can tap: geothermal power, small hydropower, bagasse, garbage conversion into electric power system, windpower and solar power.

“While it may be true that these alternative sources are a little bit expensive than a coal-fired power plant, this is nothing compared to the savings we get from being
hospitalized,” the group said in its position paper.

The Philippine government has identified the 200-megawatt coal plant, which is scheduled to be completed in 2008, as one of its main sources of electricity to offset the increasing demand of power in the next decade.

Environmentalists in Cagayan de Oro, received a boost when a member of the Japanese Diet, Noburu Usami, came and visited the site of the proposed coal plant this week.

“I want to see if this project will really benefit the local people,” Usami told reporters during a press conference.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation(JBIC)is financing US$100 million to build the coal plant in Misamis Oriental. German firms, KFW Bankengruppe and Steag Electric Systems, are financing the rest of the US$300 million.

Usami said he would make representations to the Japanese parliament to stop JBIC from bankrolling the project if he found the design of the coal plant is not “environmentally sound.”


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