“The Toxic Silence of the Lamps” (A Photo Investigation on Prevailing Disposal Practices for Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste)

The indiscriminate disposal of busted or spent fluorescent lamps as ordinary trash is putting the health of waste workers and the general public at risk of exposure to mercury, an extremely toxic chemical even at low levels of exposure.
The EcoWaste Coalition issued the statement at the launch today of its online publication “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” which contains over 100 photos of current lamp waste disposal practices in Metro Manila’s 17 local government units.  To see the photos, please go to:


As an integral part of its advocacy for chemical safety and zero waste, the group raked through garbage bins, dumps and sidewalks to gather evidence to bolster its urgent call for an environmentally-sound management of mercury-containing lamp waste, including a practical system for their safe collection, storage and recycling.

From January 30  to February 28, the group’s AlerToxic Patrollers scoured the cities of Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque,  Pasay, Pasig, Quezon, San Juan,  Taguig and Valenzuela and the municipality of Pateros to  document prevailing lamp disposal practices.
The photo documentation unmistakably shows how unwanted lamps are currently handled and disposed of, singly and in large quantities, oblivious of the clear and present danger posed by their mercury content.
“Waste lamps, as the photos show, are typically abandoned at the fence, gate, lamppost or by the roadside for the waste collectors to pick up. Often they are left behind in vacant lots or thrown indiscriminately into rubbish dumps and creeks,” said Von Hernandez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Reckless disposal practices may cause the glass tubes to break and explode, especially during mixed waste hauling operations, instantly crushing the lamps and releasing their mercury content in vapor form.  This irresponsible practice not only pollutes the environment, but also exposes waste handlers and recyclers to serious harm,” he pointed out.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “when products containing mercury are discarded into the general waste stream, the mercury pollutes the environment – in waterways, wetlands, and the air – and endangers people both locally and globally.”
“The results of our investigation should push the government into fast tracking an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system that will make the lighting industry responsible for the management of busted or spent lamps,” Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
Last September, the Department of Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 2013-09-2001 assigning the lighting industry to establish an EPR system to address the end-of-life disposal of lighting products.
“Knowing that the EPR system will take time to be fully operational, we call upon the government to immediately implement practical measures to ensure the safe collection and storage of lamp waste from households, businesses and institutions,” Dizon said.
Such measures should include, among other things:
a.  Extensive public information drive on lamp waste handling, storage and disposal to prevent mercury exposure through inhalation, ingestion and dermal or eye contact.
b.  Waste workers’ education about the hazards of mercury in the waste stream and the need for precaution.
c.  Designation of convenient drop-off points for lamp waste with appropriate receptacles.
d.  Provision of incentives to encourage waste generators to bring their lamp waste to the designated drop-off points.
e.  Safe and secure storage of collected lamp waste for proper, non-polluting recycling.
As per a government-published “Primer on Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management,”  tubular fluorescent lamps can contain 3 to 50 milligram of mercury and compact fluorescent lamps can contain 1 to 25 milligram of mercury.
According to the same source, “mercury and its compounds are highly toxic,” stressing that “even low level exposure to mercury has caused serious health effects that including neurological damage, reproductive system damage, behavioral problems and learning disabilities.”
In May 2011, the EcoWaste Coalition and its partner groups detected mercury vapor up to 502 milligram per cubic meter from informal lamp waste recycling activities at Pier 18, Tondo, Manila, a deleterious practice that the local Barangay Council banned in December of that year at the intercession of the group.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a “permissible exposure limit” (PEL) for mercury vapor at 0.1 milligram per cubic meter, while the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has proposed that the PEL be revised to 0.05 milligram per cubic meter over an eight-hour work shift.