EcoWaste Coalition Pushes for Consumers’ Right to Chemical Safety

Quezon City- In the face of lingering consumer anxiety over chemically tainted food, toys and other consumer products, an environmental coalition urged government regulators and industrial manufacturers to honor the consumers’ “right to know,” stressing that such access to information is vital in preventing potential exposure from harmful chemicals and protecting public health.

The EcoWaste Coalition made this clarion call for consumer welfare at a national workshop on chemical safety held in the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus on January 27-28 to underscore how top chemicals of concern poison humans and the environment and figure out how consumers can be protected from exposure to these harmful substances.

The workshop, which drew the participation of 150 health and environmental campaigners, was held against the backdrop of increased local and global concern over the presence of a host of toxic chemicals in products such as formaldehyde in candies, pesticide residues in food crops, melamine in milk, bisphenol A in plastic feeding bottles, lead and phthalates in toys, mercury in healthcare devices and flame retardants in textiles and electronics.

Keynote speaker Von Hernandez, founding convenor of the EcoWaste Coalition and executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, pointed out that the continuing chemical pollution of the environmental represents grave threats to human health and the viability of planetary life-support systems to sustain life.

“The fact that every child born today already carries a heavy burden of toxic chemicals in its fragile body is compelling proof that we are already living in the era of massive chemical use and exposure. Our unsustainable lifestyles, defined among others by an increasing and almost
blind reliance on products containing toxic substances, are making us unwitting participants in our own undoing,” Hernandez said.

Chemical body burdens, including naturally-occurring heavy metals and synthetic agricultural and industrial chemicals such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls and pesticides, get into the body through inhalation, ingestion, or in some cases, dermal contact. These toxic chemicals are also transmitted to the developing fetus through the placenta during pregnancy.

“As responsible citizens and consumers, we must marshal and harness our political and economic power to apply pressure on both government and industry to keep our bodies and the environment free of these toxic burdens. We must demand the right to know the type of chemicals present in these various products as well as their impacts on health and the
environment. Moreover, the burden of proving that these substances are safe before they could be deployed into commerce must fall on the manufacturers and not on the consuming public,” Hernandez added.

Manny Calonzo, president of the EcoWaste Coalition and co-coordinator of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, added that consumers have a paramount role to play in pressuring the industry to adopt a substitution policy that will replace toxic substances in production
processes and in products with non-toxic substances.

“We can influence and even accelerate industry shifts from toxic to safer substitutes, including non-chemical alternatives, by asserting our purchasing power and making the intelligent choice of not patronizing goods whose production, use and disposal may further contaminate our
bodies and the environment. For us to do this, consumers should demand full corporate disclosure on the chemicals of concern in their products.

It is no longer acceptable for consumers to be kept in the dark and denied this information,” Calonzo said.

Other experts from the government and the civil society emphasized the need to fuse and upgrade scattered policies on chemicals to foster their sound management and minimize the risks and dangers, especially to the most vulnerable groups such as the infants, young children, pregnant women, elderly, agricultural and industrial workers and waste pickers.

The workshop participants particularly called on the government to review how current policies and practices fit into the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management or SAICM that was adopted by the Philippines and over 100 countries in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 6
February 2006.

SAICM, according to the EcoWaste Coalition, is a very useful tool that can guide far-reaching reforms on how chemicals are produced, used and disposed in order to reduce contamination and injury to humans and the environment.

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 320, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376