Contractor questions Subic tests on wastewater samplesBy Robert Gonzaga
Inquirer Central Luzon
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—A US Navy contractor on Wednesday questioned the accuracy of the results of laboratory tests on the wastewater samples that the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) collected from its vessel last month, saying the integrity of the sample used and the procedure applied in testing it needed verification.
“First, did the samples come from where they claim these came from? Second, did they properly observe ‘fingerprinting’ of samples?” retired Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga, chairman and CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc., said in a statement.
Mayuga said “fingerprinting” means that surrounding waters must be tested “to find out if the ‘fingerprint’ of the specimen drawn is present. This will establish if there indeed was illegal dumping.”
The SBMA is investigating Glenn Defense, a subsidiary of a Singapore-based multinational company operating in 27 countries, for dumping domestic waste from US Navy ships into Philippine waters on Oct. 15.
Tests done by the SBMA Ecology Center on samples taken from Glenn Defense’s tanker MT Glenn Guardian showed the waste was not hazardous, but its organic contents were “beyond permissible limits.”
Subic Water and Sewerage Co., which carried out the tests for the SBMA Ecology Center, found the waste to be of “industrial strength,” which, set against standards prescribed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), is “hazardous.”
‘Not for release’
The samples have not been tested for heavy metals because Subic Water is not equipped to do tests on metals.
Hernan Habacon, spokesperson for Subic Water, said the results of the tests were not conclusive as to whether the waste was toxic.
“But as per our standards, the sample was not fit for release in the environment as the organic content was beyond the permissible limits,” Habacon said.
But Mayuga questioned the integrity of the samples used, and doubted if the right procedures were applied.
“Professionals who know the right way to draw specimens must do the sampling. For example, in medicine, urinalysis must use midstream urine rather than the first concentrated flow. Likewise, using a dipper to draw samples from the surface of the tank will create false results,” Mayuga said.
But in a press conference on Wednesday, SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said the SBMA was standing by the results of Subic Water’s tests on the toxicity levels of the wastewater sample.
Garcia challenged Mayuga to prove his allegations of tampering with the wastewater sample.
“If he has information to show that they were taken elsewhere, then we would be glad to look at it. But as far I’m concerned, they were taken from the Glenn Guardian,” Garcia said.
“As far as we can see [everything was done right] … now if somebody brings in information [to prove otherwise], they can present that so that we can take the proper measures,” he said.
“Of course, we presume regularity here since this was witnessed by several people and Subic Water is an independent utility. We presume that the tests were done properly. But as I said, we welcome any evidence that the process was tampered with,” Garcia said.
Still under probe
He clarified that Glenn Defense was “not yet off the hook,” as the SBMA was continuing its investigation and performing due diligence on Glenn Defense’s past operations in the free port.
“They are not yet off the hook on two counts. No. 1, Oct. 15 (when Glenn Guardian was inspected and wastewater samples were taken from it) is an isolated incident and we want to make sure that their past collection efforts were in accordance and in compliance with the necessary procedures,” Garcia said.
“So we are going back, that’s why we are doing the due diligence, making sure that the proper procedures were followed in the past because this is just one incident,” he said.
“Point No. 2 is that we have to ensure that they have followed all regulations of other government agencies, which are related to this,” he said.
Garcia said the SBMA would need to establish if Glenn Defense had followed regulations set by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).
The Coast Guard is the agency tasked with enforcing environmental regulations in domestic waters. The Marina, on the other hand, is the agency that handles vessel permits.
In his statement, Mayuga said Glenn Defense’s procedure for waste disposal “strictly observes standards and protocols for waste management.”
“Under no circumstances will Glenn Defense Marine compromise its integrity and reputation for faithful compliance with standards established by the scientific community and maritime protocols,” he said.
Despite the findings of Subic Water, Mayuga said domestic waste on US Navy ships had been “pretreated, in accordance [with] their standard procedure.”
Untreated waste is supposed to be released at sea at a distance of more than 20 kilometers, as prescribed by the Maritime Pollution Protocol, Mayuga said.
The Philippines is a signatory to the protocol, he said.
Glenn Defense releases waste on spots in the sea more than 20 km from shore.
Mayuga stressed that an area more than 20 km from the nearest land point is “beyond the Philippines’ territorial sea.”
Garcia said the SBMA had no way of verifying Glenn Defense’s claim that waste from US Navy ships was pretreated.
“Actually I have no way of confirming that. I will have to do a physical inspection, which I have not done,” Garcia said.
“But this is something that we will look into and this is a point related to the permissible dump discharging of wastes in the high seas,” he said.
Mayuga said his company welcomed any investigation of its operations. He said he would never allow anyone in his company to violate safety and environmental laws.
In a statement posted on the Coast Guard’s website, Rear Adm. Luis Tuason Jr., Coast Guard officer in charge and vice commandant for operations, said that there were 10 areas in the country where dumping was allowed “under certain conditions and specifications of waste … allowed to be discharged.”
Tuason said that any salvor should first secure a permit from the Coast Guard before it dumps or discharges wastes into the sea.
But Tuason said that since January, “we haven’t received any application for dumping permit from Glenn Defense Marine Asia Inc.”