Protect women and children from pollution – PH environmentalist and public health advocates

Dr. Irma Makalinao. Image © a-pba.org

ENVIRONMENT and public health advocates called on Philippine authorities to protect women and children from chemical and waste pollution.

The call was made in a Monday forum at held at the St. Scholastica’s College, three days ahead of the celebration of International Women’s Day on Thursday. The event which was attended by more than 100 people including members of civil society groups, was co-organized by the EcoWaste Coalition and the St. Scholastica’s College Communications Society and Environment Society.

Forum speakers and discussants took turns in highlighting the vulnerability of women and children to chemical and waste pollutants and their need for adequate protection, especially against substances that pose risks to brain development, disrupt hormonal functions and harm reproductive health.

The forum’s main speaker, Dr. Irma Makalinao, is a Pharmacology and Toxicology professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. In her talk, she underlined the adverse impacts of ambient air and household air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, occupational toxins, lead and mercury to human health as well as to the environment.

Makalinao, a distinguished health expert, cited the 2017 report by the Lancet Commission on pollution and health stating “pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today… and that pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable.”

To reduce pollution, Makalinao echoed the need for durable and safe products, extensive recycling, reuse and repair to reduce waste, the replacement of hazardous materials with safer alternatives, and the application of the polluters pay and precautionary principles.

During the forum, Makalinao also noted that some “70,000 chemicals are considered potentially neurotoxic, but the effects have been identified for only 10% of these chemicals.” She also stressed that “early life experiences and toxic exposures can influence late-life health and disease.”

Developmental toxicants such as lead, mercury and many other chemicals, including some pesticides, have been responsible for brain injuries among children and have resulted in global pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity, she pointed out.

For her part, EcoWaste Coalition President Eileen Sison said “hazardous chemicals in production processes and in goods sold in the market should be replaced with safe substitutes.”

“As consumers, we can avoid harmful chemical exposures by shifting to non-synthetic and ecological alternatives that will not harm women, children, workers and the ecosystems,” she added.

Forum speakers and participants also tackled the problem with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCS), or chemical pollutants that mimic, block or alter the actions of normal hormones that are found in some pesticides, electronics, cosmetics and even in children’s products such as toys.

They said EDC exposures are associated with neurological and behavioral disorders, obesity, metabolic dysfunction and related disorders, reproductive disorders and cancers, which may manifest any time in life.

They likewise drew attention to the problem caused by hazardous pesticides to farmers, consumers and the ecosystems, as well as the problem with the improper disposal of expired or unused medicines contaminating water bodies.

The forum, which also drew attendees from civil society groups, ended with Lia Esquillo of IPEN (a global NGO network promoting safe chemicals policies and practices) and Meth Jimenez of Sarilaya (a people’s organization) sharing their efforts to address the issue of women and chemicals, and mainstream gender and development in their advocacies.

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