At a workshop on mercury sponsored by the EcoWaste Coalition, health and environmental advocates emphasized the urgency to impose stringent rules on the safe collection, treatment and disposal of lamp waste as the country shifts from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent
As announced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 2008 Philippine Energy Summit, the Philippines will phase out inefficient incandescent bulbs by January 2010 and replace them with energy-efficient CFLs that typically contain from 1 to 25 milligrams of mercury, a highly toxic metal.
“We are deeply concerned with the massive switch to mercury lamps for energy efficiency that is not matched with adequate consumer education on toxic risks and a functional system for managing lamp waste, especially among residential and commercial users, to prevent adverse health and environmental impacts,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).
“The widespread practice of tossing broken or spent mercury lamps in regular domestic waste stream, as if they were ordinary discards, and their recycling in uncontrolled conditions can expose informal recyclers and their communities to mercury,” he added.
At the workshop, Dr. Lynn Panganiban, Head of the UP National Poison Management and Control Center, explained that mercury exposure occurs when the pollutant makes direct contact with a person via one or more routes of exposure such as air inhalation, food consumption, water intake and skin absorption, stressing that it is necessary to consider the necessary sequence of events from the pollutant source to its final health effects.
Mrs. Angelita Brabante, chief of the chemicals management section of the Environmental Management Bureau, also described mercury and mercury compounds as toxic to aquatic life even at low concentrations and that the inhalation of mercury vapors and the ingestion of methylated forms of mercury can cause neurological disorders as cited in the DENR Chemical Control Order for Mercury and Mercury Compounds.
To emphasize the urgency of halting the improper disposal of mercury lamp waste, youth members of the EcoWaste Coalition wore headgears made of mock linear and compact fluorescent lamps with warning labels that say “Dump Not” and “Burn Not”.
The EcoWaste Coalition cited government data on mercury lamp waste disposal showing that 88% of households, 77% of commercial establishments and 33% of hospitals disposed their end-of-life mercury lamps as domestic waste.
Waste containing toxic constituents such as mercury should not be mixed with regular waste and should be separated and subjected to appropriate hazardous treatment and disposal, consistent with Republic Act 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) and Republic Act 6969 (Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act).
A study by the Mercury Policy Project in 2009 and co-released in Manila by Ban Toxics, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and the EcoWaste Coalition showed that the burning of mercury-added products in waste such as mercury lamps emits upwards of 200 tons of mercury in the atmosphere annually.
EcoWaste Coalition’s practical steps for safely managing mercury lamp waste are:
1. Handle mercury lamp waste with extreme care as they can easily break. Do not play with discarded lamps or leave them lying around.
2. Do not throw mercury lamp waste into the regular waste bin.
3. Do not burn mercury lamp waste – as well as other types of discards.
4. Return discarded mercury lamp to its original corrugated box container or wrap it in used newspaper or paper bag, and attach a visible warning label into the item that says “Toxic: Mercury Lamp Waste.”
5. Put the properly wrapped and labeled item into a secured place for temporary storage.
6. For increased protection against lamp breakage and mercury exposure, store the discarded item in upright position into a tin or plastic container with cover for smaller compact fluorescent lamps or a cupboard for linear lamps.
7. Mark the container where the lamp waste is stored with a readable warning “Toxic: Mercury Lamp Waste.”
8. Ensure that the place where the mercury lamp waste is kept is safe and out of children’s reach and away from elements and human traffic.
9. Contact mercury lamp manufacturers and/or distributors to check if they have a take-back program for their products after their useful lives, or suggest a take back program if they have none.
10. Press the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Solid Waste Management Commission and local government units to institute a collection program for mercury lamp waste, including drop-off points, for environmentally-sound storage.