BATANGAS CITY, Philippines – The foul smell from a JG Summit chemical plant spewing smoke in Batangas is being blamed for dizziness, stomach aches, and vomiting in surrounding villages.
"Ang hinihiling lang ng taga Barangay Simlong ay kung papaano magagawa ng paraan yung pagsingaw ng plantang 'yan dahil ang mga bata, pag nakaka-amoy mayroong nagsusuka, nagtatae," said Allan Fajardo, a resident of the coastal village where the plant is located.
(The wish of the residents of Simlong village is that something be done about the smell from the plant because when the kids smell it, they vomit and defecate.)
During Rappler's visit to the village at around 5 pm on Thursday, August 13, a powerful chemical stench was easily noticeable. The smell was enough to make one dizzy after a few minutes.
Residents pointed to a tall plume of flame being emitted by one of the chimneys of the JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation, a 100-hectare complex that manufactures plastic products.
The powerful flame is not normal, said Rosalia Furto, a resident of another village beside the plant, Pinamukan Ibaba.
"Usually, there is just a small flame, like a Shellane flame. But for the past few days, the flame is very strong, and at night, there is a lot of smoke," she told Rappler in Filipino.
She too said the children in her village have gotten dizzy and experienced stomach aches during the days the flames got stronger and began to spread the foul smell.
Jerald Pira, a 12-year-old boy from Simlong village said he and other people in the village experienced feeling sick from the fumes.
"Dahil sa usok, sumasakit ang tiyan at nagsusuka. Ako po, sumakit ang tiyan (Because of the smoke, their stomachs hurt and they vomitted. I had stomach pains.)," he told Rappler.
Thirteen year-old Jomel Balares from the same village said, "Pag may dadaan po doon papunta po dito galing school, naamoy po yung solvent tapos amoy nasusunog na plastic (When students pass by the plant from school we can smell solvent and burning plastic.)"
The flames are so powerful that, even at night, the residents can't sleep because of the light.
"It also gets very hot. At night, we don't even need to turn on our lights because of the fire," said Furto.
All residents Rappler spoke to described the smell as like that of "burning plastic."
They say the odor is most nauseating during the early morning. A barangay captain from nearby Verde Island confirmed this to Rappler. (READ: Protecting the Verde Island Passage)
He had smelled the odor at 5 am that day as he passed by the plant on a boat to reach Batangas City.
This is not the first time the villages have had to endure unusual smells from the plant. It has happened several times before, said Furto, but it appears nothing is being done to prevent a repeat.
Residents have various views on how to approach the problem. Some say they prefer to be relocated away from the plant due to the health risks. Others, like Fajardo, want the plant itself to be shut down.
Another Simlong resident who said he works as a forklift operator inside the plant said the company just needs to repair whatever is causing the bad smell to leak out.
He said the plant is "helpful" for the local economy because more than 50% of Simlong residents work for the plant.
JG Summit has not released any statement on the issue.
However, on its website, it said they use "industry-renowned" technology and that it manufactures under "strict compliance" of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) quality and environmental management systems.
The company, owned by tycoon John Gokongwei, also has plans to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired plant in the same complex. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.