EcoWaste Coalition Launches Toxic Awareness and Alertness Day to Prevent Chemical Disaster and Pollution

Quezon City. As Filipinos come to terms with the disaster wrought by tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng, an environmental coalition has put forward the need for increased mass awareness on
toxic chemicals as a key strategy for preventing and mitigating accidents and disasters.

The EcoWaste Coalition yesterday launched the “Toxic Awareness and Alertness Day,” or “Alertoxic Day” for short, as a monthly initiative that intends to raise public awareness and precaution on priority “chemicals of concern” to avert chemical contamination and disaster.

The term “chemicals of concern” refers to chemical substances that present a known or suspected danger to human and ecological health, and have been targeted for global action due to their hazards such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and toxic metals such as lead and mercury.

“With the monthly ‘Alertoxic Day,’ we hope to inform the public about the health and environmental consequences of being exposed to these top chemicals of concern and how to avoid and reduce injurious exposures. By sharing information and knowledge, we hope to ward off potential accidents and disasters involving highly toxic chemicals,” said Manny Calonzo, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

The group’s “Alertoxic Day” kicked off with an awareness and alertness campaign on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), specifically targeting the informal recycling sector such as junk shop proprietors and workers.

PCBs belong to the expanding list of highly toxic POPs, currently numbering at 21, that the international community, including the Philippines, has agreed to restrict and ultimately eliminate under the Stockholm Convention on POPs because they pose significant threats to human health and the environment.

Donned in yellow shirts bearing “Working together for a PCBs-free Philippines”, EcoWaste Coalition activists led by their newest green superhero called the “PCB Eliminator” roamed around Barangay Payatas, one of the major recycling hubs in Metro Manila, and along 20th Avenue in Cubao.

“Our team jumped from one junk shop to another, giving informational materials about PCBs and showing photos of what PCB equipment look like. We also used a loud speaker to inform community members of the hazards associated with recycling PCBs,” explained Rey Palacio, project staff of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“We chose to target junk shops amid reports of indiscriminate recycling of PCB-contaminated equipment such as electrical transformers and capacitors in some junk shops that could endanger the health of waste workers and contaminate their surroundings with pollutants,” he added.

Other equipment where PCBs could be found are old fluorescent ballasts, liquid-filled circuit breakers, and voltage regulators, among others.

“We caution the recycling sector, particularly the junk shops and waste pickers, from handling PCB-containing equipment and waste oil as this can expose them to health-threatening and environmentally-harmful substances,” said Engr. Edwin Navaluna of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

“We should also point out that recycling PCBs goes against the Chemical Control Order on PCBs, and erring parties can receive notice of violation,” Navaluna added.

The CCO for PCBs follows the Stockholm Convention, which requires wastes containing POPs to be handled, collected, transported and stored in an environmentally-sound manner. The Convention, which the Senate ratified in 2004, requires that the POPs content be destroyed, prohibiting recovery, recycling, reclamation, direct reuse or alternative uses of POPs.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition, junk shop workers and people in the vicinity could get exposed to PCBs through inhalation, skin contact with PCBs or contaminated materials, and by unknowingly consuming contaminated water or food products.

Health problems associated with exposure to PCBs include adverse reproductive, developmental and endocrine effects, liver problem and chloracne, with the latter two being the most common signs of exposure to PCBs. Three US studies even show that PCBs alter brain development and produce neurobehavioral problems in children. The chemicals are also suspected to be cancer-causing.

To safely eliminate the country’s stockpiles of PCBs, the government in cooperation with the public and private sectors and the United Nations has embarked on a project that will set up a non-combustion facility to safely and ecologically deal with the toxic materials.

“It is only after undergoing approved decontamination procedures that the recyclable by-products, such as the metals from transformers and capacitors, could be safely handled and recycled. Otherwise, the non-treated materials are health and environmental hazards,” the EcoWaste Coalition warned.