By Charina Clarisse L. Echaluce and PNA
Boac, Marinduque — A Beema bamboo nursery was opened at the Marinduque State College (MSC) grounds here the other day to help absorb toxic substances from the Marcopper mining disaster in 1996.
The initiative was led by the Department of Health’s (DOH) Mimaropa regional office, MSC, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Marinduque provincial government.
MSC president Dr. Merian Catajay-Mani, said Beema bamboo will eventually be planted in several municipalities of Marinduque to help absorb toxic substances in the air, soil and water, as well as on a 34-hectare area left behind by the Consolidated Minings Inc. to turn it into an ecotourism destination.
“We have to act now because an immediate response to any disaster is vital in maximizing the number of people, property and resources that could be saved,” DOH regional director Eduardo C. Janairo said.
“We have to address all threats to life, property and the environment and even though the environment utilizes several means to purify itself, it would eventually find ways to purify itself but it also need our assistance to achieve it,” he added.
In August 1996, a leak was discovered in the drainage tunnel of a Marcopper mining pit.
This led to the discharge of more than 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings into the Makulapnit-Boac river system, rendering it unusable and affecting thousands of residents who depended on it for their livelihood.
Health issues, such as skin irritations and respiratory problems, also emerged among residents.
More than 20 years since the environmental disaster, some residents are still showing symptoms of exposure to residues of mine tailings, prompting DOH-Mimaropa and an inter-agency regional task force consisting of various government agencies and stakeholders to come up with the Beema bamboo project.
According to Catajay-Mani, a Beema bamboo plant could release up to 12 tons of oxygen and likewise sequester 20 tons to 49 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
To put up the bamboo nursery, DOH-Mimaropa released P3 million to MSC two months ago, while the state college contributed P500,000 to the initiative, Mani said.
“(We have) 25,000 saplings. After three months, we will be able to multiply these by three or four. So we’re going to have 100,000 seedlings, using the technology that I have discovered in a research on bamboo I conducted in 2009,” she said.
The bamboo trees could be harvested in three years and could be propagated further.
Beema bamboo is a specially-bred variety whose walls are three times thicker than the local bamboo and acts as a “sarbon sink.”
“We have selected this variety of bamboo due to its lifespan which is 500 years before replanting, it can be grown even in poor soils, it is thorn-less, fast growing, high yielding and it is sustainable,” Janairo explained.
‘Nature heals itself’
She added that the products to be derived from the harvested bamboo could be processed into material for furniture, floors, walls, even bridges, and could thus be a source of livelihood for the local community.
“I do believe that (the Beema bamboo) has an effect (on the environment). Only nature can heal itself but we need people to assist it,” DOH-Mimaropa regional director Eduardo Janairo said in a separate interview.
He said people should band together in searching for solutions to the health issues left behind by the mining disaster.
Janairo, representatives of partner agencies and Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes led the planting of Beema bamboo seedlings in Sitio Ulong, Barangay Capayang, in Mogpog, Marinduque.
He said the DENR is leading the testing of toxicity levels in the soil, air and water, especially in areas that were affected by the Marcopper mining disaster.