MANILA - Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), headed by Secretary Roy Cimatu, were not able to dodge questions surrounding the controversial dumping of crushed dolomite to serve as white sand for the Manila Bay.
The move to cover the bay walk with crushed dolomite, which is part of the beach enhancement project of the agency amounting to P389 million, earned the ire of various environmental groups.
Health Undersecretary. Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said in a virtual press briefing that inhaling or ingesting dolomite sand can cause eye irritation, respiratory problems or gastrointestinal discomfort.
However, she later clarified that the crushing of dolomite causes health problems, and not the sand per se.
During the Committee of Appropriations deliberations Tuesday, Cimatu reiterated the study they conducted prior to the procurement of the sand from Alcoy town, Cebu, saying they chose bigger particles that could not possibly be inhaled or cause harm to human health.
“This is our answer to the statement of the Usec. of DOH (Department of Health), that dolomite in its natural state is not a health hazard. It is not listed by the mines safety and health association, occupational safety and health association and even in the international agency as cancer or as a carcinogen," he told House members.
"What is hazardous is some silica in the quads in some dolomite in the form of dust that is generated during the crushing or screening... not the calcium or magnesium. The size of dolomite in the bay walk is 1-5 millimeters or equivalent to 2-5,000 microns or 5 times bigger than dust and therefore not suspended in air and cannot be inhaled,” he added.
BEAUTIFICATION, NOT REHABILITATION?
Contrary to public opinion that the white sand will not contribute to the agency’s goal to clean up Manila Bay, both Cimatu and Environment USec. Jonas Leones explained how the dolomite sand cleans the water in Manila Bay, which still has high fecal coliform level as of date.
Cimatu said that dolomite has components that can make acidic water alkaline, which Leones supported by saying dolomite is typically being used in marine aquariums.
“Napapababa niya yung Ph content ng tubig. Ito rin po yung ginagamit natin sa mga marine salt aquarium na nakakatulong sa paglilinis ng tubig,” Leones said.
PRONE TO EROSION OR OFFSHORE DRIFT
The DENR recognized the challenges of putting white sand, which could also eroded by water through time especially during the rainy season.
“Ayaw naman namin maglagay tapos isang taon mauubos agad yung tinambak mo, so we really looked for somebody na nakakaintindi. Nagbigay siya ng proposal, nakita namin yung plano na talagang maiiwanan yan,” Cimatu said.
Leones explained the interventions they have laid to ensure the sand will stay in place under different weather conditions, such as putting geo tubes and geotextiles.
“Yung geo tubes ito po yung plastic bags na nilalagyan natin ng sand at nilalagay natin sa perimeter ng beach area natin. Ang ine-expect natin dito, itong geo tubes na nilagyan natin ng sand will absorb the shock or the strong current produced by the strong wave to ensure retention ng sand," he said.
The environment officials explained that while they were given P389 million for the beach nourishment project, only P28 million was used for the dolomite sand.
“Per DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) report ang naibayad sa contract ay P28 million. Cost of dolomite, transport, taxes and other fees kasi package na po yung delivery from Cebu to Manila bay,” Leones said.
He added that not the entire stretch of the bay walk, which starts from the US Embassy and ends at the Manila Yacht Club in Roxas Blvd., will be dumped with white sand, as only 2 portions will be covered with it.
“Ang portion na malapit sa US Embassy at itong konting strip of land dito sa yacht club. Ang dolomite maga-appear lang yan sa portion ng US embassy dahil doon lang ho talaga pwedeng maglagay ng beach nourishment at doon lang makikita yung dolomite,” he said.
The DENR said they will push through with the project, despite many groups calling for its halt and investigation.