By Ma. Catalina M. Tolentino
Is the toxic waste contamination at Clark Air
Base spreading beyond the identified contaminated sites?
Health statistics indicate that diseases
common among the toxic waste victims at Clark Air Base reflect in
the 10 leading diseases in Angeles City. The data appears to
reinforce the theory that toxic waste contamination could be
spreading outside the affected communities and threatening public
health in Pampanga.
Statistics obtained from the Angeles City Health
Office showed that cancer and renal failure were among the 10
leading causes of mortality in the city from 1998 to 2001.
Cancer consistently ranked number two. Data
reflect the records of major hospitals of Pampanga, which are
located in Angeles City.
From the government-owned Ospital ng Angeles (ONA),
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) ranked numbers four and three as a
cause for consultation in 2000 and 2001; while abortion/miscarriage
ranked numbers two and four as a leading cause for confinement in
the same years cited.
ONA medical staff likewise observed an
increasing number of out-patients complaining of skin diseases in
Dr. Enrico Ragaza, a cancer surgeon at the
National Kidney Institute, said environmental pollution is one major
cause of cancer, as well as of respiratory and skin diseases.
He said the possibility that toxic waste has
spread through the water table should not be ruled out as a
contributory factor in the incidence of the diseases.
Migration of contaminants is possible, according
to the report “Environmental Review of the Drawdown Activities at
Clark Air Base.” It said the period of waste seepage to
groundwater could range from one month to 25 years.
Nephrologist Dr. Rene Molina observed a 10
percent increase from 2000 to 2001 in the number of kidney patients
in three major hospitals he serves in Pampanga — Angeles
University Foundation, Angeles Medical Center and Armando Garcia
“If patients are exposed to contaminated
drinking water, this aggravates the kidney diseases” which are
often triggered by diabetes and a high salt diet, said Molina.
Myrla Baldonado, Executive Director of the
People’s Task Force Bases Cleanup said studies done in 1996 by
Canadian epidemiologist Dr. Rosalie Bartell concluded a relationship
between poor water quality and the incidence of kidney and urinary
tract infections, respiratory and nervous system disorders.
Bartell noted an unusually high incidence of
female UTI and nervous system disorders at CABCOM and other
communities nearest to the dump sites.
The book “Inheritors of the Earth,”
published in 2000, documented the medical cases at Clark and
provided testimonies of former Filipino CAB employees attesting to
the unsafe waste disposal system.
The employees described Polychlorinated Biphenyl
(PCB) leaking transformers, underground wires protected by
asbestos pipes, and chemical wastes “placed in empty barrels
brought to a dumpsite where only Americans were allowed to enter”.
Sesinando Guevarra, a contractor on military
waste disposal, also attested that the Americans dumped as many as
two ten-wheeler trucks of chemicals per month, burying these in
eight-foot deep holes in the ground. According to him, as much as
100 hectares of land were used as dumping ground.
As early as 1991, chemical wastes had been known
to exist in Clark, based on an environmental assessment prepared by
the Pacific Air Force Environmental Committee.
The assessment report “Environmental Review of
the Drawdown Activities at Clark Air Base” was conducted in the
aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
But even prior to the Pinatubo disaster, one
well called Well 12 had “shown indications of trace solvent
contaminants above the maximum contaminant levels (MCL) of the Safe
Drinking Water Act”.