CURRIMAO, Ilocos Norte —- The University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS) confirmed Friday the stockpile of gravel-like materials imported from Taiwan being proposed as backfilling materials in a private seaport expansion project here is free of toxic elements like lead or mercury.

Based on initial physical tests and analysis conducted on January 29 at the Omnico Resources Inc., (ONRI) a global sand exporter in the province, Dr. Carlo Arcilla, Director of the UP-NIGS said the high-density aggregate is ideal for seaport reclamation as it could greatly withstand strong typhoon or earthquake.

For the first time in the Philippines, the ONRI is introducing the use of BOF (Basic Oxygen Furnace) aggregates in its proposed 112-hectare seaport expansion project or at least 15-hectares for the first phase of the project set to be constructed this year.

But before the reclamation project could take off, ONRI has to comply with all the requirements as prescribed by law, including an assurance that these imported materials do not threaten marine life and its environment in the long run.

“Like in Taiwan’s South Star project, I have seen it work efficiently and ideal for seaport reclamation. With respect to marine life, the reaction of this (BOF aggregate) is the same as cement. Yung tagas ng semento ay pareho lang dito. More importantly, there are buffer zones and the material is safe,” Arcilla said.

On the same day, a composite team of environment scientists, chemists, local officials and representatives from various government and non-government organizations including the media conducted a parallel investigation and sampling of the controversial BOF aggregates to be used in a seaport expansion project of the Omnico Resources Inc.

Taking samples of at least two kilos each from the five identified stations—from the south, east, west, north and top of a huge stockpile of BOF aggregates as tall as a three-storey building at the southern portion of ONRI’s port office, the samples using both calibrated equipment of the UP-NIGS and the state-run Mariano Marcos State University were tested to determine the metal content, chemical properties, density, and pH level of said imported materials from Taiwan.

The parallel investigation and joint sampling procedure was conducted purposely to answer various claims that the use of BOF aggregates, a by-product in steel processing may probably threaten marine life once used for land or seaport reclamation.

Result of the final analysis and interpretation is expected to be released after a week, after taking samples. An initial test result regarding its physical properties however revealed that the materials are non-hazardous. The examination was conducted right after taking samples at the ONRI compound.

The actual procedure which took about three hours was witnessed by the concerned parties such as the local government officials of Currimao led by Mayor Gladys Go Que and representatives of the Ilocos Norte Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Provincial Quarry Council, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Environment Management Bureau and the China Corporation.

Likened to a natural gravel, BOF aggregates composed mainly of lime and iron ore is preferred by ONRI to use as backfilling material for the proposed 112-hectare seaport expansion of the company because of its high density and it is relatively cheaper than using river sand and gravel available in the province.

Alma Kho, senior vice president and general manager of ONRI said the proposed seaport expansion project offers great potential investment opportunities for the people of Ilocos Norte once fully completed.

As part of the development plan, ONRI envisions to promote Ilocos Norte as a commercial industrial loop to attract more investment opportunities in the province such as the construction of international transport terminals, commercial buildings, hotels and restaurants, island ocean park, fisherman’s wharf, seafood market, amusement centers, international schools and more.

“We thank everyone for opening their doors to collaborate and work in this project responsibly. The environment is also our concern and we would like to leave a legacy to the future and the generations to come,” Kho said.

The January 29 joint sampling is now the fourth time these BOF aggregates were examined. The first sampling held last year was conducted separately by the ONRI, followed by the Environment Management Bureau of the DENR and the Provincial Quarry Council under the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte. All of the series of tests passed the allowable pH limit of 12.5 pH, resulting in an average 12.1pH based on the latest examination.

Dr. Antonio Farinas, head of the Department of Enviromental Sciences of the MMSU however underscored other parameters of investigation and testing should still be conducted in the near future to test if an organism is sensitive to a certain material like the BOF aggregates.

“It’s not just humans, we should also test its reaction to animals and our marine life. We need to examine all these for us to be assured these are guaranteed safe,” Farinas added, citing the process is a lifetime study to monitor its impact to our environment.

Should the seaport expansion project get the endorsement of both the Ilocos Norte government and the local government unit of Currimao, this would be the first time in the Philippines that BOF aggregates will be used for seaport reclamation using a state-of-the-art geotube for the construction of embankment and installation of slope protection for protection and durability.

Other developed countries such as China, Japan, Taiwan and Canada have been using BOF aggregates for land and seaport reclamation including asphalt and road construction.

Once proven that the use of these BOF aggregates is indeed safe for the environment and to humans, Ilocos Norte board member Joel Garcia, chair of the committee on environment of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan said this would pave the way for the favorable endorsement of the first phase of the project.

However, he noted that there should always be continuous monitoring of the project and the materials used. “As of the moment, we still do not know how these materials react to the marine environment as the test conducted is merely to determine its physical components.”

Earlier, the SP had initially approved the seaport reclamation project provided there would be a continuous monitoring and analysis of the materials used and its impact when exposed to seawater.

Aside from ensuring the desirability of these imported materials for backfilling, Garcia also added that there is a need also to look into the socio-economic acceptability of the project.

For instance, the effect of the seaport reclamation to fishers’ livelihood once they are displaced and the potential damage to coral reefs at the proposed reclamation site must be determined. PNA/northboundasia.com