CURRIMAO, Ilocos Norte — A global sand exporter which has been exporting construction sand from Ilocos Norte to Japan and Singapore since 2009 is pushing for the development of a 112-hectare private seaport reclamation project, this town.

As one of Ilocos Norte’s largest revenue generators, Omnico Natural Resources Inc. (ONRI) has an existing industrial sand and gravel permit from October 5, 2011 to October 4, 2016, granted by the Mines and Geoscience Bureau.

Covering at least seven villages lying the Padsan river as its major extraction site, ONRI also operates a sand-processing plant in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte with a capacity of 3,500 metric tons of magnetite sand per day and an international conveyor port in Barangay (village) Gabut Norte in nearby Badoc town of the second district of Ilocos Norte.

As part of its long-term master plan for seaport expansion and development, the company wants to reclaim over a hundred hectares of the sea in adjacent Currimao town.

To do that, ONRI started to import furnace slag aggregates from Taiwan earlier this year to be used as backfilling materials for its initial 15-hectare port expansion project (Phase 1) located within the boundary of Badoc and Currimao towns.

Officials and residents of Currimao raised the alarm these imported materials may have toxic contents that could probably harm marine resources in the area.

A furnace slag aggregate is a residue or a by-product of iron and steel-making from a blast furnace in water or steam to produce a glassy, granular product that is then dried and ground into a fine powder.

This prompted the Ilocos Norte government through its Provincial Quarry Council (PQC) to stop the importation of these alleged toxic slag materials last April 2015 as they sent a team to get samples and have it re-examined by concerned government authorities.

Following a series of laboratory examinations, results showed these Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) aggregates contain an average 12.5 pH, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment and Management Bureau considers as “safe to be use for reclamation.”

In a committee hearing held at the Ilocos Norte board on December 4, Engineer Remedios Jimenez, head of the Environmental Monitoring and Laboratory Section of the EMB-Region 1, said these materials (BOF) are inert which means, “it is not chemically reactive, non-hazardous and non-toxic.”PNA