EcoWaste Coalition Sounds Alarm Bells over Improper Disposal of Mercury

Quezon City. Although united with the goal of the “Earth Hour” in promoting action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental network sounds the toxic alarm bells over the lack of policy on the ecological disposal of mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) touted as climate solutions.

Aside from switching off lights and signages on March 28, the “Earth Hour” also promotes the country’s shift to the energy-efficient CFLs from the incandescent light bulbs, which are set to be phased out in the Philippines by 2010.

“While recognizing the energy and climate benefits of CFLs, the EcoWaste Coalition sees the need for equal attention being given to reducing the mercury contents of CFLs, and to their safe management at the end of their useful lives to prevent a potentially toxic crisis,” said Manny Calonzo, president of the zero waste, climate justice and chemical safety advocacy network.

“At present, Filipino consumers are barely aware of the toxic risks when mercury-containing lamps are accidentally broken or improperly discarded into regular waste bins and sent to dumpsites,” he pointed out.

“We are concerned that the massive switch to CFLs is not matched by a proactive program to reduce the risk of mercury contamination of humans and the environment,” he added.

CFLs contain from 1 to 25 milligrams of mercury, a toxic metal, that can adversely affects the brain, particularly of young children and developing fetuses. Exposure to mercury can also cause reproductive, birth, developmental and behavioral disorders and other health problems.

Mercury in products such as CFLs can be released into the environment during breakage or when spent bulbs are improperly disposed such as by dumping or burning, causing the toxic metal to enter the environment and the food chain, bio-accumulating in living organisms, and harming human health and the ecosystems.

A primer jointly published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Energy (DoE) warns that “one fluorescent lighting tube contains enough mercury to contaminate 30,000 liters of water to an unsafe drinking level.”

To prevent mercury pollution from improper disposal, the EcoWaste Coalition calls for the adoption and enforcement of a 10-point policy on CFLs that will:

1. inform consumers about the risks and hazards of mercury exposure through adequate labeling requirements of CFLs

2. educate users on precautionary steps in case of lamp breakage

3. classify mercury-containing lamps as hazardous materials requiring special handling, storage and disposal

4. ban the disposal of spent or broken lamps in waste bins and in municipal dumpsites

5. affirm the prohibition against the incineration of waste lamps and other discards

6. implement a practical collection system for cracked or used mercury lamps

7. make manufacturers or importers responsible for end-of-life management and disposal of CFLs through a mandatory product take back program

8. require manufacturers and importers of CFLs to produce or market low-mercury and long-life CFLs

9. provide incentives to manufacturers and importers of low-mercury or mercury-free energy-efficient lamps

10. designate a “National Mercury Day” to instill public awareness and precautionary action against mercury pollution

“We urge the DENR to collaborate with the energy, health and trade departments and the civil society in devising a policy on CFLs that will adequately protect our consumers, waste workers and communities from toxic harm,” Calonzo said.

The EcoWaste Coalition further urges the DENR to closely monitor the compliance of accredited transportation, storage and disposal (TSD) facilities for waste lamps, ensuring that all the required steps are complied with to ensure that mercury-containing bulbs are safely kept or disposed. There are so far nine DENR-accredited TSD facilities for waste lamps located in Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Pasig City.

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 320, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376