Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How safe is Safe?

Civil defense exec grilled over NDCC report
Panay News Oct. 10, 2006

ILOILO City – In a press statement issued to the media yesterday, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) announced that the level of hydrogen sulfide in Guimaras is now safe.

But how safe is safe?

Further questioning by the media on Deputy Administrator Dr. Anthony Golez Jr. of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) yesterday exposed NDCC’s statement as doubtful, to say the least.

During a media briefing at the Grand Hotel in downtown Iloilo, Golez failed to provide hard data to support NDCC’s assertion.

“I hope to give you accurate data. The national government’s concern is on human safety, security and protection,” Golez emphasized in his opening statement.

The NDCC press statement read: “the (hydrogen sulfide) levels indicated in the August 23 Department of Health (DOH) report is within normal although some areas had slightly elevated… levels…not harmful to human health.”

When pressed by reporters, however Golez was at a loss, especially when he was asked about NDCC’s own subsequent statement that contracted its earlier assertion.

“According to the (Department of Health), once all the debris are cleared, a post clearing test shall be done by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to finally check and verify the levels of the hydrogen sulfide,” the NDCC’s convoluted press statement further read. It added, “If said levels are found within acceptable safe standards then complete return of evacuees shall be recommended by the NDCC.”

How did the NDCC come up with its “safe” declaration when the DENR has yet to “check and verify” the levels of the hydrogen sulfide in Guimaras?

Golez groped for words.

In an unnumbered memorandum dated August 29, 2006 signed by DOH Secretary Francisco Duque Jr., the DOH-Manila in collaboration with the University of the Philippines – National Poison Management and Poison Center revealed high levels of hydrogen sulfide emissions, particularly in Brgys. Cabalagnan and La Paz, exceeding “the US Environmental Protection Agency – Provisional Remediation Goal (EPA-PRG) which is 0.00071 ppm (parts per million).”

Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic gas. Considered a broad-spectrum poison, it can poison several different systems in the body with the nervous system mostly affected. Inhalation of air containing high levels of hydrogen sulfide can cause death.

Also, the August 29 report disclosed high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – which levels exceeds more than a thousand times higher with the EPA-PRG standard limit.

Based on the unnumbered memorandum dated August 29, 2006, DOH immediately made a 100-meter buffer zone on the coastal barangays affected by Petron Corp.’s spilled bunker fuel oil when its chartered vessel, M/T Solar 1, sank off the Guimaras Strait on August 11, 2006.

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It's disheartening to hear that people may belittle the issue, or not even really give much thought on the HUGE impact and consequences of this disaster. We can only hope that true action can be done. This is not something we can just sweep unde rthe rug, folks. :-P

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