From: Oliver Teves, Associated Press
Published October 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Officials Warn Gold Panners in Filthy Manila River

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials on Tuesday warned scores of people searching for gold in a filthy suburban Manila river that they face a better chance of getting sick than finding the precious metal.


Impoverished squatters in the Del Monte and Masambong districts have descended upon the Dario River in suburban Quezon City since children accidentally discovered tiny pieces of gold from debris and scrap metal dumped there last week.


Based on at least four "documented" sales, residents have recovered about 140 grams of gold worth 105,000 pesos (US$1,875, euro 1,525) since the first nugget was found last Tuesday, said Edwin Rillon, senior geologist for the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences.


The river has become a large sewage canal over the years. Its murky water is littered with garbage and residential waste, including sewage that flows from nearby homes.


Rillon said the river area is made of adobe rock, which is "not a good host" for gold mineralization. He believes the gold came from debris dumped by a local junk dealer, who won a bid to buy 500 barrels of scrap metal from the Central Bank following a fire in 2001. He said the gold may have come from "sweepings" — waste material from cleaning the bank's gold refinery.


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Geologists have found no gold from four sample bags of materials taken from the river, he said.


Using a megaphone to address the gold panners, Environment Secretary Michael Defensor warned that whatever nuggets they find may not be enough to pay for their hospital bills if they get sick with hepatitis, diarrhea, skin and fungal infections, and allergies.


"Those who were among the first to find gold were the lucky ones, but as time passes, you may just encounter disaster," he said.


City health officer Dr. Maria Paz Ugalde expressed fears of leptospirosis, a potentially fatal disease from rat urine usually spread through contaminated water.


Masambong district leader Enya Flores said she is concerned about possible fights or violence if authorities stop people from going to the river.


"I hear some of them say, 'This is our fortune. Why would you take it away from us?'" she said.


Her fellow district leader, Jun Santa Maria of neighboring Del Monte, said the gold diggers are stubborn.


"They will not get anything there except human waste," he said. "If people are hungry, they will really try to find something."


However, he said there was a positive side to the gold rush, citing the many eateries that have sprouted up to cater to the growing crowd, which includes jewelers and gold buyers.


Source: Associated Press


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