Dr. Emiliano Hudtohan

Educator, Business Writer, Industry Expert and Entrepreneur

Impact of Mining on Health and Wellbeing

This paper discusses health and wellbeing of the internal and external stakeholders of the mining company. In particular, it highlights the case of the Marcopper mining disaster.  Although the tailings incident happened in 1999, its impact on the health of the affected community and the safety of the environment (land and the rivers) have had long-lasting effects years later.  It cites arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and mercury and the respective parts of the body affecting the skin, heart, gastrointestinal system, hematologic system, cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, muscoskeletal system and reproductive system. The paper concludes that the health and wellbeing of internal and external stakeholders must be undertaken through tripartite action of the mining company, the government and civil society.

Key words: health, wellbeing, community, stakeholders, corporate social responsibility, life-of-community, and

Part 1 of this paper discusses the importance of health and wellbeing in the context of the threats posed by the mining companies.  These threats, as discussed in this paper, are mainly due to mine tailings that expose the people and the environment to mercury and arsenic.

The case of Marcopper mining disaster is revisited in order to show the long term effects of tailings that poisoned the Boac, Mocpog and Calayan Bay that brought diseases to the residents of Marinduque. Part 2 in another paper is \ entitled, Community-based Corporate Social Responsibility of Mining Companies. It is a sequel which presents a corporate social responsibility framework as background to mining corporate social initiative to create a community-based health and wellbeing center.

Methodology in writing this article is historical research (Smith, 2015) which “involves understanding, studying, and explaining past events.”  It is basically looking at the past events in order to explain the present circumstances and make a proposed solution for the future (Hudtohan, 2005; Gonzalez, Luz, & Tirol, 1984). Basically, it is a retrospect-prospect approach which re-views the past event like the Marcopper case and a prospect is made in order to correct the deliberating effects of mining. In doing this historical research, the authors relied on secondary documents propelled by Google search and library hardcopy in form of newspapers, journals, books and other publications.

1.    Corporate Health and Wellness

Gillian Pillans (2014) asks, “Where does responsibility for employee health and wellbeing lie? Expectations on both sides are higher than ever. Employees expect their employer to back up the ‘people are our greatest assets rhetoric with tangible actions, quality services and support. In return, employers expect their people to engage “with wellbeing programs and take responsibility for looking after their health as best they can.”

For her, health is ‘being free from illness or injury, whereas wellbeing is much broader, bringing together physical, mental, and social health into a broader concept of ‘life satisfaction‘. There is a trend to focus not just on helping ill staff get better but on proactive steps to prevent ill-health, educate employees and build resilience.

She observed that life expectancy at the workplaces is generally much safer and healthier than 30 years ago. However, the incidence of ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as cardio-vascular disease and diabetes is rising. Mental health is one of the top two reasons for absence from work.  In the UK, the cost of absenteeism is estimated at £17bn; and the annual median cost per employee is £595. Presenteeism (being at work but unable to work productively due to ill health) is rising, increasing the burden of cost on employers.

She concluded that the ultimate responsibility for health and wellbeing lies with individuals themselves, but employers are playing a greater role in creating healthy environments, helping their people to make good lifestyle choices and providing support where it is needed.

2.    Mining Health and Wellness

With issues on climate change and global warming, public antipathy is increasing towards mining activities in Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, Canada and elsewhere in the world (Creamer, 2010), mining companies must maintain a reputation of strong corporate social responsibility and respond to community concerns regarding the impact of mining projects on the community.  Kirsch, Viswanathan, LaBouchardiere, Shandro, & Jagals, (2013) argue that they should not only assess and plan to manage their health and well-being across the life-of-community (LOC) continuum but must be proactive in communicating the predicted socio-economic, environmental and health impact to civil society.

They also recognized that the health and well-being needs of communities, directly or indirectly associated with mining developments, may vary relative to different social degrees of connectedness to the mine inclusive of the immediate mine, workers, workers’ families, mining community, broader community, Indigenous communities and regions. They coined the term “life-of-community” (LOC) to encompass this continuum from worker to region. In addition, at varying degree of connectedness, new impacts may develop and existing impacts change over time during each life cycle stage of the “life of mining” (LOM). These complex factors are currently underrepresented in environmental, social, economic and associated health impact assessment and strategic life of mining (LOM).

The life of a mining is closely entwined with the life of a community and we encourage future research to consider the full range of impacts within the life of-mining and life-of-community LMLC framework.

3.     Mining impact on workers

In the Philippines, the mining industry as of 2014 has a total of 44 companies mining metallic gold, copper, chromite, nickel and iron; and a total of 4 processing and smelter plants.  But there are 999 registered mining companies and 1,684 applications are in process.  The total employment in mining sector is 235,000. (DENR, 2015).  This does not include small-scale mining operations, which are not registered.
De Leon (2015) of the Institute for Organizational Health and Safety Development (2015) remarked that “Mining is considered as one of the most hazardous occupations. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should never be complacent in monitoring mining companies’ strict compliance with health and safety standards.”  Mining poses tremendous health risks, not only to miners but to communities as well (IOHSAD, 2006; Boulanger & Gorman, 2014).
According to IOHSAD, the occupational health hazards to miners include:

1.    Intense heat in underground mines causes: dehydration of fluids and salty deficiency, increased stress on heart, heat stroke, opacity of the lens, and reduced fertility. Poor ventilation results to: lack of oxygen – suffocation and death and 2. Brain malfunction.

2.    Vibration causing: permanent damage to bones, vibration syndrome or “dead finger” syndrome- gangrene in hands and fingers, digestive problems – constant shaking of internal organs, heart problems and disruption of the nervous system.

3.    Exposure to airborne particles has systemic toxic effects due to absorption of lead, manganese, cadmium, zinc and other toxic materials Fumes emitted by chemicals being used or by machines can trigger accidents and cause death. RSI, due to overloading of particular group of muscles from repetitive use or maintenance of constrained postures, results to weakness of affected muscles, heaviness, “Pins and needles” sensation and numbness.

4.    Noise or irritating and hazardous sound results to: hearing impairment, disruption of body functions like blood circulation and hormone imbalance, deafness and irreversible hearing loss, increased blood pressure and peptic ulcer due to increased gastrointestinal motility. Manual lifting of heavy materials leads to back problems and acute body pain.

According to Na-oy (n.d.), since 2005, the Federation has been campaigning against mercury use among miners Small–scale Gold Mining in Benguet, Northern Philippines   ASGM takes place in 9 of Banquet’s 13 municipalities with about 15,000 to 20,000 miners. Benguet miners have long been using traditional mining methods. In the 1940s, mercury use became rampant due to high-grading of gold in large-scale mining companies.  In the 80s, mercury use became prevalent among small-scale miners; In the early 90s, cyanidation emerged (carbon in-leach, carbon-in-pulp, heap leach). Amalgamated tailings were re-processed using cyanide.

Stephenson and Ahern’s (2001) review of related studies on mining show that:
1.    There were more studies of occupational health in the mining sector than community health studies. Discussions include health and safety in the mines and at the stage of extraction of mineral and metals. A few studies deal with processing stages of minerals, particularly in studies of gold mining.
2.    Mining remains one of the most hazardous occupations in the world in terms of short term injuries and fatalities; its long term impacts include cancers and respiratory conditions such as silicosis, asbestosis and pneumoconiosis.
3.     Studies report that small-scale mining is more hazardous than large scale mining in terms of risks of accidents or injuries. But small-scale mining tends to be surface excavation or smaller scale operations employing younger less experienced workers and sometimes children.
4.     Studies of mining and health by type of mine process are divided into deep and open cast mine. Deep mines produce severe problems for workers in terms of their risks of high blood pressure; heat exhaustion; myocardial infarction and nervous system disorders. Studies of surface mining focus on coal, granite and rock mining and health risks related to dust inhalation. In all levels of mining health risks occur with dust exposure.
5.    Respiratory issues are the most studied and problematic of health impacts for workers. Long-term impacts include cancers, mental health impacts and some evidence of impacts on genetic integrity of workers.
6.     Community health impacts of the mining and minerals sector are less well defined than those faced by workers. There are problems not only in defining ‘community’, but also in conducting the kinds of epidemiological studies that might provide evidence of links between mining activities and health outcomes.
7.    The debate on the impact of the mining and minerals sector on both worker and community health is polarized. The industry tends to highlight the alleged benefits of the sector, whilst community groups and NGOs suggest that the sector is detrimental to health and sustainable development.
8.     In peer-reviewed literature some studies cite adverse effects of mining on community health. Other studies are less conclusive and only one study discussed the positive impacts of mining companies on community health.
9.    There were relatively few studies on policy initiatives. Health and safety improvements in mines have been developed over a long period of negotiation and struggle. Laws have come after union and management activities. Governments have supported organized labor in the improvements.
10.    Scientific understanding of long-term impacts has improved “hazard visibility” and resulted to shifts in health and safety legislation. But small-scale mining sector falls outside formal legislative protection or scientific analysis.
11.     Companies have provided a range of community initiatives including vaccination programs and health services. But companies rarely address the community claims for damage made against them internationally. Communities have worked with scientists to understand some of the impacts associated with living near to mines. Unions have rarely played an explicit role in support for community claims.
12.     There is a need for more governance openness and transparency within the mining sector, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. There is a further need for in-depth long-term evaluation of the impacts of mining of health on workers and communities.

13.    There is evidence of long-term impacts of mining on health of workers and communities. This implies that the sector’s activities currently undermine the human objectives of sustainable development, which are to protect the health of current and future generations.
14.    There is still a long way to go before mining becomes a healthy work or a healthy development activity to take place in a community. There is also a long way to go before the industry, the workers and the community agree over the real health impacts of the sector and the real responsibility of each of the actors in the sector.

4.    Mining and Health in the Philippines

Today, the practice has been discontinued because of the effect of mercury – cyanide interaction in amalgamated tailings. Miners in Benguet now practice traditional and modern method (e.g. Use of sluice box without Hg and cyanidation of mercury-free tailings The ASGM discourages leaching of amalgamated tailings.  Amalgam poses a hindrance to the efficient recovery of gold   Mercury-cyanide combination easily transforms mercury into organic mercury (methylmercury), its more lethal form.

Marcopper Case Revisited. The Marcopper case has been hailed as the worst mining disaster in the Philippines.  While the mining problem occurred in 1996, it continues to be a legal battle between the Place Dome and the aggrieved parties.  Likewise, the health issues continue to plaque the communities affected by Marcopper are mining operation in Marinduque.

As of August 31, 2015, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the Catholic prelates have joined “calls by civil society groups to urge the provincial government of Marinduque to pursue a multimillion dollar class suit against a global mining firm over the 1996 Marcopper spill” (Inquirer, 2015). This renewed effort is a reaction to the decision of the Nevada Supreme Court on July 11, 2015, dismissing the case for lack of “bona fide connection to this state…[it] could be more readily enforced against Barrick in Canada than in Nevada” (Inquirer, 2015).

Marcopper Mining Corporation had Tapian Pit and San Antonio Mine at Marinduque, Philippines.   It was 39.9 percent owned by Placer Dome who managed and guaranteed the loans for the two Marcopper Mines (1969-1996). The product and reserves were copper, with gold and silver as by-products and the mining operation was suspended 1996. The operation involved open pit at two mines, the Tapian Pit and the San Antonio Mine, metal extraction through flotation and leaching. It employed around 800 people

As early as 1956, Placer Dome, then Placer Development Limited, became involved in an exploration project on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines, undertaking extensive geological mapping and drilling. In 1964, Marcopper Mining Corporation (Marcopper) was established. In 1969, Marcopper started mining operations in Marinduque. Placer Development Ltd. secured and guaranteed more than US$ 40 million in loans for the new copper mining company from a consortium of American banks and “Placer undertook the responsibility for open pit planning, design and construction…”

The issues are resurfaced in this paper for the purpose of pursuing the health issues brought about by the mining operations of Marcopper through Placer Dome in the Philippines.  Coumans (2002) made the following report:

1) Placer Dome Consistently Ignored Best Practice, Consultants’ Advice, and Government
Directives. This brought destruction to the three waterways.

Calancan Bay – Surface disposal of tailings into the sea was unacceptable by “best practice” standards by 1975. As early as 1971, Island Copper in Placer Dome’s home province in Canada and the Atlas Mine in the Philippines were using submerged marine dumping systems. Placer’s consultants, Rescan (who also advised on Island Copper), advised Placer to use submerged disposal in Marinduque, off a deep coastal shelf in Torrijos. Placer Dome’s first permit for ocean dumping explicitly stipulated that the dumping had to be submerged to protect marine resources. Placer attempted a submerged system in 1975 in shallow Calancan Bay; the system failed and Placer reverted to surface disposal into the bay in violation of its permit.

Mogpog River – The earthen siltation dam built at the top of the Mogpog River, in 1991, was inadequate and burst with the first major typhoon in 1993. It was repaired with an overflow, which it had previously lacked. Within a year waste was flowing through the overflow. The dam continued to leak acidic and metal enriched waste since 1994 and was in danger of collapse.

Boac River – No risk assessments or Environmental Impact Assessment were conducted on the Tapian Pit before using it as an impoundment for tailings in 1992. No international consultants were consulted for the plugging of the tunnel at the bottom of the pit. No monitoring of the tunnel was carried out. The clean-up of the river was delayed for years because Placer Dome ignored repeated government directives to stop seeking a permit for Submarine Tailings Disposal as a clean up option and to find a suitable on-land disposal option.

Dams and Structures – June 14, 2001 five dams and structures were unstable and two posed an immediate threat to human life. Placer Dome did not act on this information. On October 11, 2001 the Philippine Government ordered Placer Dome to begin to fix the faulty dams and structures. Instead, Placer Dome left the country.

2) Placer Dome Insisted on Marine Dumping Against the Wishes of Local Stakeholders – Placer Dome delayed the clean-up of the Boac River for 6 years by insisting on dumping the tailings in the ocean against the express wishes of the people of Marinduque and the Philippine Government.

3) Placer Dome left the Philippines in December 2001 without fulfilling commitments made to the Office of the President following the tailings disaster in 1996, and in disregard of a government order of October 2001 to fix dams and structures whose collapse threatens another ecological disaster and loss of human life in Marinduque.

Health issues 12 years later.  In 2008, Ilagan reported that twelve years after a major mining catastrophe toxic wastes still choke key waterways in Marinduque. There is a continued threat of mine tailings pouring into Boac and Mogpog rivers and Calancan Bay, because the mine structures were in need of repairs. As result, chronic illnesses were on the rise in Marcopper towns
Her report detailed the health hazards posed by the abandoned mine wastes, and notes the lack of health personnel who could respond to the rising health needs of the affected communities. Already, medical experts have observed an increase in cases of diabetes, goiter, renal disease, spontaneous abortion, and even cancer in at least three towns in Marinduque.
It is almost impossible for Marinduque to be rid of most of the toxic mine wastes that has become the legacy of Marcopper Mining Corporation in the island.  The locals who used to fish for a living in the now-polluted Boac and Mogpog rivers and Calancan Bay have yet to find alternative means of livelihood.  Medical professionals have observed an increase in chronic illnesses in people living near the waste sites, leading them to suspect that the toxic mining trash has been silently wreaking havoc on the residents’ health.
Provincial health officer Dr. Honesto Marquez observed a rise in the number of cases of diabetes, goiter, renal disease, spontaneous abortion, and even cancer particularly in the towns of Sta. Cruz, Mogpog, and Boac. At least three young Sta. Cruz residents, with ages ranging from eight to 19, have also passed away due to illnesses believed to be related to heavy-metal poisoning.
Unexplained rise of illnesses. In January 2005, a team from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) submitted to the Marinduque provincial government a commissioned report assessing the environmental and health impact of mining on the island. But the USGS team itself admitted in failing to make a significant scrutiny of the effects of mining on the health of the people, citing unavailable data, confounding variables, and lack of control groups.
“The USGS report was of no use,” remarks Mogpog municipal health officer Dr. Edzel Muhi. “They say that the chemicals found in the children are possibly from the paint in houses and the school, but the most families here live only in huts.”
As early as March 1998, then President Fidel Ramos had declared a state of calamity in four Sta. Cruz barangays near Calancan Bay (Botilao, Ipil, Lusok, and Camandugan) due to the high incidence of heavy-metal poisoning among the children there. In 2008, official data show that in these same barangays, the prevalence rates of illnesses considered to be symptoms of heavy-metal poisoning far outpace national figures. In fact, the four barangays have influenza and hypertension prevalence rates that are some eight times that at national level — 4,283.96 per 100,000 population for influenza and 4,079.96 for hypertension, compared to the national prevalence rates of 435 and 522.8, respectively.
Metals and Illnesses. The University of the Philippines National Poison and Management Control Center shows in Table 1 the affected parts of the body caused by chemicals and metal such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and mercury.

Table 1
Body parts affected by chemicals and metals.

Ilagan (2008) reported that the barangays in Marinduque post a high prevalence rate of acute respiratory infection (ARI) and upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) or cough, cold, and fever: 6,813.54 per 100,000 population, or three times more the provincial prevalence rate of 2,104.36. Health officials note as well that the barangays’ annual cases of ARI and URTI increased in 2007 to 334, from the average of 258 in the previous five years.
The University of the Philippines National Poison Management and Control Center (UP NPMCC) stated that lead, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc are among the toxic substances left behind by Marcopper in Boac and Mogpog rivers and Calancan Bay. Metals affect every vital organ and it could be hematologic, it could affect the nervous, endocrine, renal, and even the reproductive system. Signs and symptoms of heavy-metal poisoning may range from minor diseases, such as skin rashes, diarrhea, and constipation, to more serious illnesses, like hypertension, blood and pulmonary disorders, and even cancer, mental retardation, or developmental delay.
Community health experiences. Ilagan (2008) reported the experiences of the residents affected by Marcopper. Wilson Manuba ignored the cuts made by shellfish on his feet and legs whenever he fished at Calancan Bay. He began feeling his feet were being “pricked by needles” while he fished in the bay. In 2002, he was diagnosed as having contracted arsenic keratosis and squamous cell carcinoma that required the amputation of his right leg. At 37 then, Manuba was about to lose his other leg.
In Mogpog town residents can only look wistfully at the river that used to help feed them and keep them clean. Adelina Mitante, 63, said, “The river has totally changed. Just by the color, sometimes it’s blue, yellowish, or like rust.” Milagros Muhi, 57, noted that carabaos that drink regularly from the river “become thin… our (harvest of) bananas and coffee are affected.”  Evaluated cases of skin lesions and neurologic complaints from locals living near the river were noted because residents had to cross the Mogpog River despite it being contaminated.  Doctors said that even if preventive measures are taken, such as applying cream or taking vitamins to block the absorption of metals in the body, symptoms of heavy-metal poisoning will keep on showing up so long as the toxic source exists.
Children’s Health. In 2002, the Department of Health  (DOH)  with the UP Philippine General Hospital (PGH) assessed the health of Marinduque residents. Results showed that children in the exposed areas of Sta. Cruz and Boac had histories of convulsions while those from unexposed Torrijos and Buenavista towns had none. Physical examination showed that the affected communities had more undernourished children than the unaffected ones. Exposed children had blood disorders such as anemia, leucocytosis, and reticulocytosis.
At Sta. Cruz, children were found to have elevated levels of arsenic and lead in their blood. Mothers also complained of headache, blurred vision, eye pain, cough, palpitations, and muscle pain. After the 1996 mine-tailings spill in Boac River, 38 residents, mostly children of Boac and Sta. Cruz were brought to UP-PGH in Manila for treatment and detoxification. They all presented elevated blood lead levels and neurological symptoms related to heavy-metal poisoning.  Toxicologist said that the problem with metals
An increased focus on health and well-being impacts within a strategic LOM planning framework should directly result in reduced detrimental impacts such as chronic disease from environmental exposure, and increased benefits, such as improved health service delivery by government agencies, both of which would result in overall improved health outcomes. Improving beneficial impacts at every step in the LC continuum (i.e. improved health outcomes) will reflect positively on the mining industry in terms of social responsibility and community engagement (and their social license to operate), as well as directly enhancing the long-term economic sustainability of communities that are economically dependent on mining (Kirsch,  Viswanathan, LaBouchardiere, Shandro. & Jagals, 2013).

Mining companies should seek continued improvement for health and safety in accordance with Principle 5 of International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM, 2008) which calls for “a management of all aspects of operations that could have a significant import on the health and safety of our employees, those of our contractors, and the community where we operate.”

Elizabeth Kanter is right: All social problems are economic problems.  But in the light of tripartite problem-solving exercise, I say: All social problems are socio-economic-political problem, especially in developing countries in the ASEAN region.

Health and wellbeing is the responsibility of both of the employee and the company. While corporations have the resources to promote health and wellbeing as a matter of social responsibility for its internal stakeholders like the human resource, employees must take personal interest in maintaining good health and wellbeing.

Health and wellbeing of the community within the geographical range of mines is an issue that must be addressed by mining companies as a matter of social responsibility.  The case of Marcopper mining disaster at the end of 20th century is a landmark case which calls for tripartite partnership for sustainable development.  Business, government and civil society (NGOs, mining communities, religious groups and media) have to come together to work out a win-win solution.

Health and wellbeing of the mining community may be directly addressed by the mining companies by moving their philanthropic corporate social responsibility (CSR) to corporate shared value (CSV) and from   CSV to corporate social initiatives that create a sustainable health program to ultimately establish a community-based health and wellness center.

The life of a mining is closely entwined with the life of a community and we encourage future research to consider the full range of impacts within the life of-mining and life-of-community LMLC framework.


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Dr. Jeanne T. Valderrama, MD
is currently physician of Assumption College, San Lorenzo, Makati City, Philippines and a consulting physician of Barangay San Lorenzo. She is a pulmonary medicine and tuberculosis

control consultant. She was former director of the field operation of Philippine Society of Tuberculosis, Inc. of the Quezon Institute and served as pulmonary consultant of USAID HealthPRO in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. She is director of AcademiX2Business Consultancy, Inc.

Dr. Emiliano T. Hudtohan, EdD
is a retired professor of De La Salle University, Manila College of Business; he currently teaches at the De La Salle Araneta University, Malabon Graduate School, San Beda College Graduate School and De La Salle College of St. Benilde Graduate School. His field of interest and expertise is business ethics and corporate social responsibility. He has delivered papers on mining sustainability and corporate social responsibility at the international seminar held in Unaaha, Konawe and recently a paper on Asean economic integration and corporate social initiatives at Halo Oleo State University, Kendari, Sulawesi, Indonesia. He was a columnist of Manila Standards Today. He is president and co-founder of AcademiX2Business Consultancy, Inc.

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