Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has vowed not to let up her efforts to help residents living near a coal-fired power plant operating inside the refinery of oil giant Petron Corp. in Limay town in Bataan province.

Lopez made the assurance after Limay residents trooped to the DENR central office in Quezon City to complain anew of the ash residue of SMC Consolidated Power Corp. (SMCCPC) which made some of them ill.

"Trust me, I'm not gonna let you down," Lopez told the residents during a dialogue held inside her office.

Officials of the DENR's Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Petron and SMCCPC were also present during the dialogue. Both Petron and SMCCPC are subsidiaries of San Miguel Corp., one of the country's most diversified and biggest conglomerates.

The residents complained of water pollution, dust, foul odor and noise coming from the refinery complex. They also traced the frequent respiratory illnesses suffered by many of them to the coal plant within the complex.

According to the residents, their health conditions have deteriorated since coal plant started operation in 2013. They averred that their cough, colds and asthma have become persistent despite regular checkups and medications.

The residents also cited a study by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on the presence of hazardous substances like cadium and mercury in the fish caught in the coast of Limay.

During the dialogue, Lopez told plant officials to address the concerns of the residents and "fix the way they operate."

She also emphasized to them that the residents themselves are not opposed to their operation and all they were asking was for issues about their health and livelihood be resolved as soon as possible.

"You have to find a way to operate which doesn't cause suffering," Lopez said, addressing the plant officials.

She added: "The coal plant has really done bad to the people's health. We will not allow suffering to go on."

Lopez, meanwhile, instructed EMB officials to review the emission standards provided under the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.

"We have to raise the standard, improve the emission standard. That's all," Lopez said.

It will be recalled that a series of ambient air sampling for total suspended particulates and sulfur dioxide has been conducted by the EMB within and near the refinery complex. The results were all within the National Ambient Air Quality Guideline Values. ###