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Cablegate: Visiting Epa Team Advises Grp On Chemical Emergency


DE RUEHML #2520/01 1670504
P 160504Z JUN 06






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Visiting EPA team advises GRP on chemical emergency

B. MANILA 1976


1. (U) At the request of the GRP and with support from
Ambassador Kenney, four US Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) emergency responders came to Manila to advise on the
clean up of the high-profile mercury spill at St. Andrew's
School (refs A,B). The team trained GRP personnel and
private contractors to monitor mercury levels and
sufficiently decontaminate the school. They also discussed
chemical emergency response policies and procedures more
broadly. As a result of the timely assistance, the GRP
declared the school as safe and ready to open with the start
of the new school year in June. During the team's visit, a
Congressman filed a bill to ban the use of mercury and other
hazardous chemicals from all schools in the Philippines.
Sustained momentum may depend on additional funding. End

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Building Response Capacity

2. (U) The GRP determined the school to be mercury-free on
May 26, with the help of EPA experts Steve Calanog, Philip
Campagna, Brian Brass and Duane Newell. The EPA team guided
the Department of Interior and Local Governance (DILG)
Special Rescue Unit (SRU), Department of Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR) Environmental Management Bureau
(EMB), and private contractors in the clean up of the
school, training them on use of the equipment, data
analysis, and proper handling of contaminated materials.
They helped test mercury levels of furniture, personal
affects, and air conditioning units. During the clean up,
the team found that the elevated levels of mercury stemmed
from a previous spill in an adjacent room to the most recent
spill. The contamination was isolated and resolved by
removing the floor in the affected classroom. A private
company had mostly addressed the most recent spill before
the team arrived. A Philippine team also tested the home of
one of the students who had reportedly took home mercury,
with the EPA team providing advice and guidance from a
nearby location. According to SRU leader Major Embang, the
team's visit helped boost the confidence of responders who
had previously been unsure of themselves given their lack of
prior experience in mercury decontamination.

3. (U) The EPA team also discussed an Incident Command
System, which involves policies and procedures to prepare
for and respond to mercury and other chemical spills from
incident through clean up and remediation, with the Inter-
Agency Committee on Environmental Health (IACEH) and the
National Disaster Coordinating Council. They advised these
interagency groups to set Philippine parameters based on the
unique conditions and factors of this country and develop
appropriate responses using locally available technologies.
They provided insights on U.S. chemicals policies and
environmental standards to safeguard children's health,
occupational health, and public health of the surrounding
community. According to IACEH member Dr. Irma Makalinao,
the team's visit raised the confidence of officials within
the Department of Health, DENR, and DILG Occupational Health
and Safety Center who had previously debated the appropriate
standards for certifying the school as safe for children and
potentially pregnant teachers.

4. (U) According to the EPA team, DENR Secretary Reyes was
supportive of protecting the environment and promoting the
mining industry, although he acknowledged the use of mercury
in mining operations. He expressed the need to strengthen
the capacity of the DENR to monitor the environment around
mines and in mining communities, and adequately address any
mining-related accidents. [Note: Secretary Reyes recently
allowed Australian mining company Lafayette to resume
Philippine operations after a chemical spill that occurred
in October. He told the press that the GRP would allow only
responsible mining as a part of sustainable economic
development. End Note.]

5. (U) Congressman Zialcita, whose district includes the
school, took advantage of the enthusiasm around the EPA

team's visit to announce a bill to ban mercury at all
schools and public institutions in the Philippines. Another
Congressman from an adjacent district also filed a bill to
create a Philippine Environmental Protection Agency. The
purpose of the new agency would be to establish an agency
with authority to protect the environment against "pollution
and other impacts occasioned by human activities." The US
EPA team expressed concern that there is currently little
authority to implement prevention and preparedness programs,
complicated by the disparate groups and agencies given
partial responsibilities and no additional funding for these

Further Opportunities

6. (U) The team identified several follow-on areas that may
benefit from the expertise of a Science Fellow or other type
of assistance. A Fellow might consider assisting the GRP to
set criteria for site risk assessments or action levels for
various environmental contaminants and develop other
environmental regulations and standard operating procedures
specific to dangerous chemicals. The team also suggested an
information campaign or school-based curriculum for handling
chemicals, and a Fellow may help the DENR develop criteria
for evaluating schools. Besides mercury, the team noticed a
keen interest in oil spill prevention and cleanup, which may
stem from the recent oil spill on Semirara Island that
slicked approximately 300 acres of mangrove and beach. The
team mentioned the possibility of returning to Manila in
October for a planned international conference on the


7. (SBU) The team's visit highlighted the need for more
chemical safety awareness, strengthened chemical safeguards,
and better preparedness for chemical disasters in the
Philippines. The team donated personal protective equipment
at the end of the visit, which Post will formally present to
DILG in the coming weeks. The visit sparked an interest in
developing programs and standard operating procedures and
there is great opportunity for USG involvement. While there
are many areas for improvement, there was a general sense
that appropriate agencies needed additional funding to
develop meaningful, sustainable capacity and adequately
equip talented professionals.


© Scoop Media

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