EcoWaste Coalition launches “Iwas Paputoxic” Drive

Health and environmental advocates from the EcoWaste Coalition, together with over 1,000 students of Kamuning Elementary School in Quezon City, today staged a lively welcome of the New Year minus polluting and health-damaging firecrackers by holding a noise barrage on their campus

In lieu of hazardous firecrackers, the school assembly, led by Principal Salvacion Salve, generated sounds from noisemakers crafted from items commonly found at home and in sari-sari stores. These included such creations as shakers from soap and toothpaste boxes, beverage cans and plastic bottles and maracas from tin cans. Tambourines from flattened bottle caps, as well as cymbals from pots and pans and the all-time favourite torotot, or toy horn, were also used.

The activity was held to relaunch the EcoWaste Coalition’s “Iwas Paputoxic” drive. Now in its fifth year, the campaigns aims to persuade the citizenry, particularly the youth, to refrain from blasting firecrackers this holiday season. Instead, they were encouraged to opt for more creative means of ushering in 2011 that will not endanger life, limb, property and ecosystems.

After the noise barrage, the students recited a pledge to celebrate Christmas and New Year in a clean and safe manner that will not bring harm to themselves, to other beings or to the environment.

Among those present at the launch were the representatives of the Department of Education, Department of Health and the Quezon City Public Library from the government sector, and the Alaga Lahat, Ang Nars, Citizens Organization Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Miss Earth Foundation, and Zero Waste Philippines from the civil society.

Beauty queens Kris Psyche Resus (Miss Philippines Earth) and Renee McHugh (Miss Philippines Air) also graced the vibrant launch of the “Iwas Paputoxic” campaign.

Speakers at the event cautioned the students about the high risk of being injured by firecrackers. Government data show that 29%, or 288 of the 990 victims of firecracker-related injuries in 2009 were children between 1 and 10 years of age.

“Firecrackers are putting our children’s health and safety in danger, as the bloody statistics show,” said Roy Alvarez, president of the EcoWaste Coalition. “As responsible adults, it is our shared duty to safeguard our children from toxic exposure and injuries that could jeopardize their health and development.”

“A little creativity can go a long way towards keeping our children and environment healthy,” continued Alvarez. “It’s also an added bonus that parents won’t have to spend too much to celebrate the holidays, especially in these trying times.”

In addition to the physical harm caused by firecracker-related accidents, the EcoWaste Coalition stressed that firecrackers carry loads of toxic materials that can seriously impair human health.

“Every firecracker that is lit this season contributes to the already worrisome cocktail of toxins in our bodies and environment. It is very ironic that we allow children to play with these dangerous items when they are the ones most vulnerable to toxic effects,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

Citing a DOH health advisory on firecrackers, the EcoWaste Coalition said that firecrackers and fireworks are made up mainly of gunpowder, which is a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and potassium or sodium nitrate and other chemical additives, including heavy metals.

According to the DOH, the blasting of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices generates many pollutants, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur compounds, particulate matter, metal oxides and organic compounds. These pose health risks to infants and young children and those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

A particular concern for the EcoWaste Coalition is the problem with perchlorate, a toxic chemical commonly used in rocket fuel that is also widely present in fireworks.

Perchlorate affects human health by preventing the thyroid gland from taking in iodine, which is essential to the proper brain development of children. It is also toxic to adults because it prevents the thyroid from releasing hormones that the body needs to function properly, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

The US EPA has also linked perchlorate in fireworks to contamination of a lake. Within 14 hours after the fireworks, perchlorate levels rose 24 to 1,028 times above background levels. Levels peaked about 24 hours after the display, and then decreased to pre-fireworks levels within 20-80 days.
Also, a recent study in California showed that babies born in areas where tap water was contaminated with perchlorate had a 50 percent chance of having poorly performing thyroid gland. Drops in the production of thyroid hormone may negatively affect intelligence, the study reported.