'Sickening' smoke rises from chemical plant near Verde Island Passage

MANILA, Philippines – "Sickening" smoke has been rising from the JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation plant in Batangas, threatening coastal villages and the nearby Verde Island Passage.

Photos on social media show thick clouds of black or grey smoke issuing from a column of flame.

According to Batangas councilor Kristine Balmes, the flames and smoke have been observed for two weeks now.

Residents have confirmed to Rappler that the smoke is now spreading a nauseating stench in coastal villages

"Napakabaho po; parang lason. Sobra pong sakit sa ulo 'pag naamoy kahit po takpan ng kamay ang ilong (It smells terrible; it's like poison. The smell causes headaches even if you cover your nose with your hands)," said Arnold Briton, barangay captain of San Andres, a village on Verde Island.

Briton had passed by the chemical plant at 5 am from the island on his way to Batangas City. He spoke with Rappler by phone.

He also said the smell was foulest by the sea. Briton said it is likely chemicals had seeped into the water.

The JG Summit plant manufactures polyolefin products, or products made of a special type of plastic. The complex is located in the villages of Pinamukan Ibaba and Simlong on a coastline adjacent to the Verde Island Passage, one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Marine biologists dub it the "center of the center of shorefish biodiversity." It has been the subject of numerous scientific studies because of its richness. Only last June, American and Filipino scientists discovered 100 new species in the passage.

Despite its global importance, the Verde Island Passage is not protected by a national law, unlike other ecologically-important places like Mount Pulag National Park.

This has made it possible for facilities like the JG Summit plant to be built nearby. The company also has plans to put up a 600-megawatt coal-fired plant in the province, to the dismay of environmentalists.

They are worried about another threat: a proposed gold mine to be put up by MRL-Egerton Gold Philippines. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.