In March 1996, the Philippines experienced one of its most serious industrial pollution accidents. The incident involved the Marcopper Mining Corporation which has been carrying out open- pit copper mining since the 1970s. When the company finished one of its operations in Marinduque, it plugged the old pit with concrete so that it could act as a disposal pond for mine waste. In August 1995, seepage was discovered in the pit’s drainage tunnel. This subsequently ruptured. The accident discharged tailings into the Makulapnit-Boac (Boac) river system. The incident resulted in the release of some 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings along 27 km of the river and the coastal areas near its mouth. The impact on the river and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods was massive. The onrush of tailings displaced river water which inundated low-lying areas, destroying crops and vegetable gardens and clogging irrigation channels to rice fields. The release left the Boac River virtually dead. The effects of the incident were so devastating that a UN assessment mission declared the accident to be a major environmental disaster. This study set out to estimate the value of the environmental damage from the accident. One of their aims was to help formulate guidelines for damage assessment and the calculation of compensation. Before the accident occurred, the waters of the Boac river provided many important services to the communities along its banks. These included fishing, irrigation, laundry, washing, bathing, transport and local medicines. Some of these services have market values, while others are not easily costed in this way. To see how much damage the mining accident had caused, the study looked at the total value of the services the river provided, before and after the incident.
Philippine Mining Disaster: Counting the Cost of a Ruined River