UN-Backed Project vs Cancer-Causing Chemicals Launched

Quezon City. The Philippines has taken a historic move that will address the serious health and environmental threats from the country’s stockpiles of obsolete industrial chemicals found mainly in old electrical transformers.

Representatives of the government, industry and public interest non-government organizations (NGOs) launched last Wednesday a novel initiative backed by the United Nations that will see the establishment of a non-combustion facility for destroying persistent organic pollutants (POPs) known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Leading the momentous launch held during the week-long Earth Day celebration were Dr. Mohamed Eisa of the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organization (the implementing agency for the project), Julian Amador of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (the national executing agency) and Stefan Saño of the Philippine National Oil Company – Alternative Fuels Corporation (the operating entity).

In his remarks, Dr. Eisa, who heads the UNIDO’s Stockholm Convention and Chemicals Management Unit lauded the country’s commitment to the project, which is part of an international program supported by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), that will demonstrate the feasibility of non-incineration technologies for destroying obsolete POPs stockpiles and wastes.

The project will run for 48 months beginning 2008 and will cost US$11,770,880, with GEF providing a grant of US$4,108,500. The local owners of the PCBs-containing equipment and wastes, particularly the Manila Electric Company, National Power Corporation and the National Transmission Corporation, will pay for the services estimated at US$2,512,380. The other project partners will contribute in cash and in kind as well.

“This initiative will hopefully help us safely deal with the toxic legacies associated with the past use of POPs in the country. The intention to use non-burn systems to dispose of these pollutants shows clearly that there are safer alternatives to waste incineration,” said Von Hernandez, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and also Steering Committee member of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

“The solution to the problem of toxic and hazardous wastes, however, ultimately lies in the implementation of clean production in the industrial sector,” added Hernandez, an internationally recognized environmental campaigner.

As explained by visiting Slovakian scientist Dr. Martin Murin, also of UNIDO, PCBs are extremely toxic industrial chemicals used primarily as heat exchange fluids in electrical transformers and capacitors, and as additives in paint, carbonless copy paper and plastics. In the
Philippines, partial inventories of PCBs indicate that they are mostly found in old electrical transformers and capacitors. As of 2006, the DENR-EMB has identified PCBs-contaminated equipment weighing 4,478,736 kilos and containing 2,400,560 kilos of PCBs oil.

Exposure to PCBs even at very low levels, Murin stressed, can cause a range of adverse impacts to human health, including damaging key systems in the body such as the immune, endocrine, nervous, digestive and reproductive systems. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified PCBs as probable human carcinogens or substances that can cause cancers such as cancers in the brain, skin, liver, gall bladder, biliary tract and gastrointestinal tract.

Mindful of these perils to public health and the environment, the Philippine government, the industry and the civil society, with the support of the United Nations, have come together to realize a collaborative venture that will rid the country of these highly toxic chemical wastes.

EcoWaste Coalition
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Quezon City, Philippines
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