Cebu waste workers take a break to discuss threats from toxic chemicals

Mandaue City/Quezon City. Some members of the Cebu informal waste sector (IWS) yesterday took a half-day off from their backbreaking work to talk about chemical risks associated with their “climate cooling,” but hazard-prone occupation.

The participating waste pickers, garbage collectors and junkshop owners, who either work or live near dumpsite communities in the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Talisay and in the town of Umapad, took part in a workshop on chemical safety, focusing on the concerns of the IWS.

They were joined by government and civil society representatives who also came to learn about the occupational safety and health issues affecting the IWS and explore possibilities of working together to limit, if not eliminate, waste workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and toxic watchdog, organized the workshop in partnership with the City Government of Mandaue, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Region VII, Freedom from Debt Coalition-Cebu and Sanlakas.

“The IWS plays a very significant role in recycling valuable materials that are ultimately returned and reused by the economy. By cutting greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal and from the use of virgin materials, recycling by the IWS and the society generate climate cooling effects,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats) .

“However, their work is fraught with serious risks and hazards such as the tendency to be exposed to harmful substances, sharp objects and infectious materials,” she added.

A study conducted in 2004 by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Mother Earth Foundation and the Smokey Mountain Resource Recovery Systems, in collaboration with groups in Cambodia and India, says that “exposure to a cocktail of toxic fumes and other chemicals in the dump and from open burning is a major threat to the health of the community.”

Some of the prevailing practices that expose waste workers to a range of highly toxic chemicals include burning PVC coated copper wires (that releases dioxins,”the most toxic man-made chemical”), smashing open TV cathode ray tubes to remove copper yokes (that releases large quantities of lead, a neurotoxin, and other chemicals of concern), crashing spent fluorescent lamps with mercury (another neurotoxicant), and cutting open electrical equipment containing poisonous oils like polychlorinated biphenyls (a suspected human carcinogen), among others.

Eileen Sison, NGO representative to the National Solid Waste Management Commission, who spoke at the workshop, reported that “the government has already formulated a national framework plan for the IWS and if the IWS in Cebu can work together, they can be recognized by their local government and have secure and safe access to livelihood from recycling.”

“A collaborative approach involving the IWS, the government, private sector and the civil society is essential to improve the working and living conditions of the IWS and to address issues concerning chemical safety, public health and environmental protection,” she pointed out.


“Informal-Formal: Creating Opportunities for t he Informal Waste Recycling Sector in Asia”

“National Framework Plan for the Informal Waste Sector in National Solid Waste Management”