SORSOGON City, Oct. 24, 2014 – A Catholic school calls for the closure of a coconut processing plant following over a year of hazardous industrial smoke emissions from the said plant, posing health risks to the local community.
“The plant began operation in March last year,” Sr. Odelia B. Golloso, school directress and superior of the Sister Servants of the Divine Healer (SSDH) said. “We started to smell the foul odor in April. By June we started complaining.”
According to her, students and teachers have been experiencing headache, dry throat, irritated eyes, gastric disturbance, and vomiting. At times, the school, which has a population of over 340 kinder, primary and secondary students and more than 20 teachers, was forced to suspend classes due to the unbearable stench enveloping the campus.
According Thelma Engay, Divine Healer Academy of Sorsogon principal, the Peter Paul Phil. Corp has since then attempted to bribe the school administrators to weaken the local community’s stance, but they refused.
The school seeks nothing less than clean air, she said.
In a letter from the Peter Paul Phil. Corp., dated Oct. 3, Golloso was told the plant’s bio mass boiler “was designed based on DENR standard” and “in fact, our smoke stack is higher than what the DENR prescribes.”
Despite this, students, teachers, school staff, nuns, and monks continue to smell the foul odor of the industrial smoke, she said.
“We suffer almost half a year,” Engay noted.
Golloso mounts more pressure on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to shut down the plant, saying “they are supposed to protect the environment.”
Until recently, DENR holds that the operation of the plant abides by its standards.
Esteven Garcia, a provincial agriculturist, expressed apprehension over the hazardous effects of possible carbon monoxide emissions from the plant.
His family, also living in Sea Breeze, which is over a kilometer from El Retiro and the populous village in the city, complains of a vinegar-like foul odor when the wind blows towards their direction, he said.
Nuns, monks more exposed
The school, located in a retreat compound called El Retiro in barangay Cabid-An, which is separated from the plant only by a concrete fence topped with hog wire, is filled with an awful smell, particularly during the period between June and mid-October, when the plant’s smoke is blown towards it, Golloso said.
Aside from the smoke, the students are also disturbed by “a rumbling noise” that originates from the plant, she added.
According to Golloso, the nuns and monks who live in the El Retiro compound, which comprises the SSDH convent, formation house, mother house, and Poor Claire Monastery, are more exposed to the stench than the students, teachers, and school staff.
El Retiro has become popular among retreatants and families who prefer get-togethers at the compound because of its ambience until the plant damaged that reputation, she said.
SSDH arrived in the area in 1986, Golloso said. The school has been around since 2003. (Oliver Samson)