A waste and pollution watch group has reminded the government and people of Quezon City to put into action an ordinance promulgated 13 years ago that seeks to prevent the improper disposal of busted fluorescent lamps containing mercury.
The EcoWaste Coalition called for the implementation of City Ordinance 1483, Series of 2005 “requiring all residents and business establishments to segregate spent fluorescent light bulbs from common garbage” in order to avoid lamp breakage and the release of its mercury content.
As stated in the preamble of the ordinance, “garbage collectors and dumpsite scavengers are unsuspectingly exposed to such hazardous waste.”
According to official records, the ordinance was co-introduced by Councilors Elizabeth Delarmente, Julian Coseteng, Antonio Inton, Alma Montilla, Janet Malaya and Bayani Hipol, and approved by then Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. on March 11, 2005.
“We appeal to the local authorities to breathe new life into this ordinance, which remains truly relevant today given the continuing practice of mixing busted or spent lamps with typical discards,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
An investigation conducted in the first quarter of 2018 by the EcoWaste Coalition in 21 cities in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces has confirmed this practice. As noted in the group’s report “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” “broken and burned-out lamps are generally disposed of along with ordinary municipal solid waste and hauled to landfill facilities.”
“It would be sensible to hold a dialogue to discuss how the ordinance could be effectively promoted and enforced to protect public health and the environment from mercury in products and wastes,” Dizon added.
The Minamata Convention of Mercury, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized, requires governments “to take measures to ensure that mercury waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner.”
The UN Environment has recommended precautionary steps to avoid or limit exposure due to mercury in wastes. Some of its recommendations are as follows:
- Mercury containing products should be segregated from other waste before disposal.
- If stored, the waste should be kept in closed containers in order to prevent any leaks or vaporization.
- Mercury wastes may be recycled and the mercury recovered, as long as special precautions are taken that all mercury emissions from this process are below internationally agreed standards.
- Mercury-containing wastes should never be burned or incinerated.
As mentioned in “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” “mercury in lighting products in the form of mercury vapor is released due to breakage during their use or during their handling, storage and disposal.”
“Inhalation is the typical exposure route for mercury released from lighting products. Dermal contact with the mercury contaminated phosphor powder that lines fluorescent lamps is another exposure pathway that can impact on those who handle broken lamps and can cause the spread of contamination,” the report said.
The report has warned that “occupational health risks are generally high for unprotected waste collectors, haulers and recyclers handling mixed discards in the municipal solid waste stream with bare face and hands.”
Aside from lamp waste, waste workers have to deal with mercury from other mercury-added products and wastes, including other electronic waste such as switches and relays, medical devices such as thermometers, skin whitening cosmetics, and dental fillings, the group said.