Shell must close carcinogenic Philippines depot

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The Supreme Court in the Philippines yesterday ordered the closure of Shell's Pandacan oil depot, which has been responsible for continuing carcinogenic air pollution.

The depot, which holds around 315 million litres of bunker oil, liquefied petroleum gas, aviation fuel and other potentially toxic substances, sits in the middle of a densely populated area of more than 84,000 people. Leaks from the facility have led to the hospitalisation of residents and students living in the area. Many of those living in Pandacan suffer from respiratory infections and skin diseases.
A study conducted in 2005 by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine revealed that Pandacan residents have been exposed to neurophysiologic toxins, which are present in the petroleum products stored at the oil depot. The study also showed that incidence of nerve damage decreased in patients who lived further away from the refinery.
In 2001, the City Council ruled that Shell had violated several laws, including not installing adequate fire safety systems, or obtaining the necessary licenses and permits to store the chemicals present at the facility. But allegations of 'gifts' and bribes to city officials indicate how the depot might have managed to keep running for a further six years.

Yesterday's ruling has been welcomed by environmental groups. Vladimir Cabigao, lawyer for the Fenceline Community for Human Safety and Environmental Protection and one of the proponents of the case filed by the Supreme Court, said:

'This is a landmark case in the Philippines as far as environmental justice is concerned. The Pandacan oil depot services 80% of the petrol requirements of the Philippines. In the decision, the Supreme Court has upheld the general welfare of the people over the private and pecuniary interest of the oil companies. The Court has placed paramount importance on the health and safety of the people. This is a welcome precedent for Philippine environmental justice.'

This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007