By Nelson Flores, Ll.B., MSCK
THE continuing improper disposal of mercury laden burned-out fluorescent lamps is polluting the environment and posing health hazards to waste workers, especially those who are uninformed and unprotected.
The Philippine based EcoWaste Coalition, an environment and public health watchdog, issued the warning following the release of its latest report “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” where aside from discussing the dangers posed by mercury, it provided visual evidence of the unsafe handling, storage and disposal practices of mercury-containing lamp wastes by 21 local government units in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces.
“We carried out the photo investigation to demonstrate the urgency of ensuring the environmentally sound management of busted fluorescent lamps to prevent breakage and protect the public, particularly the waste workers, from shards and mercury exposure,” said Thony Dizon, the coalition’s chemical safety campaigner.
He noted that due to the unsafe practice, “occupational health risks are high for uninformed and unprotected waste collectors, haulers and recyclers who often handle unsorted wastes with bare face and hands, which may include discarded mercury-added products such as fluorescent lights, switches and relays, thermometers, skin whitening cosmetics and dental fillings.”
The photos taken by the EcoWaste Coalition from over 150 locations from February 1 to March 8, show that burned-out lamps are carelessly disposed of alongside household trash as well as construction and demolition debris, thrown on the streets, dumps, vacant lots and creeks, abandoned on corners and ironically in sidewalks with the ubiquitous “bawal magtapon ng basura dito” (do not throw garbage here) signage. These toxic wastes are collected by unprotected waste workers then hauled to landfills.
As explained in the report, mercury in lighting products, in the form of mercury vapor, is released due to either breakage during their use, handling, storage or disposal thereby contaminating the air.
While inhalation of mercury released from lighting products is the typical route for human or animal exposure, dermal contact by those who handle mercury contaminated phosphor powder that lines fluorescent lamps is another exposure pathway, the report pointed out.
According to some studies, the country generates approximately 50 million pieces of lamp wastes per year of which only 0.5 million pieces (1 percent) are treated off-site, 4 million pieces (8 percent) are stored, 3.5 million pieces (7 percent) are sold to junk shops, and 42 million pieces (84 percent) are disposed of as garbage.
As per inventory assessment by the Environmental Management Bureau, 378.89 tons of mercury and mercury-containing wastes are emitted or released yearly into the environment, which include 23.5 and 2.20 tons from double-end fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps, respectively.
Moreover, the EcoWaste Coalition’s study indicates:
a. The lack of awareness and compliance with hazardous waste management laws and regulations by household, business and institutional lamp waste generators, (Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2018/03/19/properly-dispose-old-televisions-pc-monitors-and-other-electronics-ecowaste-coalition/)
b. The low awareness among lamp waste generators and waste workers about the environmental health and occupational health hazards posed by the improper management of mercury lamp wastes,
c. The lack of a system for a free take-back of end-of-life lighting products despite an order from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) directing the lighting industry to set up a systematic collection, transportation and disposal of lamp wastes.
To rectify the situation and foster the environmentally sound management of mercury lamp wastes, the EcoWaste Coalition has put forward a number of recommendations, including the following:
a. For the DOE to get the dormant USD1.37 million Lamp Waste Management Facility with mercury recovery up and running in 2018. (Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2018/01/29/save-the-ph-mercury-lamp-recycling-project-ecowaste-coalition/)
b. For the DOE and the DENR to initiate a participatory review of the implementation of Joint Administrative Order No. 2013-09-0001 on the “Lighting Industry Waste Management Guidelines.”
c. For the Government of the Philippines to proceed with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2018 and the required concurrence by the Senate. (Read More: http://beyonddeadlines.com/2017/08/15/environment-and-health-advocates-urged-the-ph-senate-to-ratify-the-global-agreement-against-mercury-pollution/)
d. For the National Solid Waste Management Commission, in collaboration with environmental health groups, to conduct public information and education on mercury lamp waste management.
e. For municipal and city authorities to craft ordinance to ensure the inclusion and implementation of environmentally sound management of special wastes, including lamp wastes and other household hazardous wastes.
f. For the lighting industry to designate convenient collection programs and/or drop-off points for lamp waste, especially for household and small-sized lamp waste generators, with appropriate receptacles that will prevent breakage.
g. For manufacturers to specify the mercury content on the lamp and its packaging and to indicate the following warning label as required by the Philippine National Standards: “WARNING: Contains Mercury, Handle with Care and Dispose of Properly.”