Quiapo, Manila. As governments meet in Bangkok to discuss the process and timetable of negotiating a global treaty to curb mercury pollution, health and environmental advocates gathered in busy Quiapo district to raise public awareness on the need to safely manage mercury lamp waste.
While recognizing the climate benefits of energy efficient mercury-containing lamps, the EcoWaste Coalition warned that improper disposal of broken or used lamps can release mercury into the
biosphere and cause toxic pollution.
A brochure published by the group describes mercury, a highly toxic chemical, as a potent neurotoxicant that can cause adverse effects on the brain. Among other health issues, mercury can cause developmental deficits and delays among children.
“We know that cost-effective alternatives are not yet available for some mercury-containing products like fluorescent light bulbs. Sad to say, some 80% of busted lamps are disposed of as domestic wastes in dumpsites or landfills where they are precariously retrieved, buried or burned,” said Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.
Government data on mercury-containing waste lamp disposal indicate that 80% or some 19,880,993 lamps are disposed yearly as domestic wastes. These are mostly linear fluorescent lamps, which can contain as much as 25 milligrams of mercury per unit.
“To reduce mercury releases from mercury lamp waste, we urge government agencies, manufacturers, distributors as well as institutional and household consumers to establish a system for
environmentally managing lamps at the end of their useful lives,” he added.
The absence of a clear-cut government policy on mercury lamp disposal has prompted the EcoWaste Coalition to improvise steps to guide consumers on ecological management of mercury lamp waste.
“We have drawn up a 10-point step-by-step procedures on managing mercury lamp waste in the hope of safeguarding our consumers against toxic mercury exposure,” said Thony Dizon, coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).
These 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.
In the interest of human and ecological health, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to expeditiously devise a policy on the environmentally-sound management of mercury lamp waste.
Such policy, the EcoWaste Coalition stressed, should strictly enforce the ban on dumping and burning of trash, particularly hazardous waste such as mercury lamp waste, that is already covered under existing laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
Proposed Senate Resolution 1396 filed by Senator Manny Villar on October 7 echoed the EcoWaste Coalition’s advocacy for a comprehensive policy on the proper collection and disposal of mercury lamp waste “that will adequately protect our consumers from toxic harm.”