In a joint statement to mark the “World Day for Safety and Health at Work” on April 28, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) pitched for holistic pollution prevention strategies to enhance waste workers’ protection from toxic substances.
“The task of managing society’s discards is fraught with occupational hazards. Formal and informal waste workers, including those who retrieve recyclables from bins, dumps and rivers, are prone to injuries and diseases resulting from actual contact with sharp objects and discards
containing pathogens and chemicals,” Eileen Sison of the EcoWaste Coalition said.
“We owe it to our waste and sanitation workers to push for policies and measures that will eliminate the toxic materials from the waste stream, reduce occupational hazards and uphold their health and labor rights,” Anne Larracas of GAIA added.
The groups stressed the need for the government to put into action the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which, among others, seeks to establish mechanisms so that workers and the general public no longer suffer health deficits, diseases or deaths due to occupational or environmental exposure to chemicals.
Citing information from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the groups lamented the death of some 430,000 workers worldwide due to exposure to hazardous substances. The ILO further reports a staggering 2.3 million fatalities from work-related accidents and diseases across the globe.
“While we do not have national data on how many of our waste and sanitation workers have become ill or have succumbed to death due to inherent occupational hazards, we deem it essential that we all act now to reduce the risk of chemical exposure from handling waste,” the groups said.
Common occupational hazards linked with waste handling as gathered from United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) sources include skin and blood infections due to direct contact with waste, eye and respiratory infections due to smoke and dust, and intestinal infections transmitted by flies feeding on waste.
Chemical burns and poisoning resulting from direct contact with hazardous substances mixed with regular waste, burns and other injuries from occupational accidents at waste disposal sites, and chronic respiratorydiseases, including lung cancers, among incinerator and landfill operators
have also been documented.
In line with the SAICM’s objectives, the EcoWaste Coalition and GAIA, in solidarity with the trade unions, asked the government to adopt a comprehensive program based on the precautionary principle that will prevent and reduce chemical risk, including phasing out the most hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of products and replacing these with non-toxic substitutes.
The groups particularly asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to adopt a policy that will require toxicity testing for chemicals used in products to ensure consumer safety prior to marketing and use.
They also asked the DENR to implement extended producer responsibility (EPR) to encourage manufacturers to create eco-friendly and non-toxic products and implement systems to recover and recycle products after they have been used or discarded.
“We urge the government to put the safety and health of our waste and sanitation workers high on the national agenda while we strive to implement the principles and practices of Zero Waste,” the groups said.
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