Environmentalists, Pulmonologists Remind Cemetery Caretakers, Cleaners: Open Burning is Illegal, Unhealthy


As the
massive cleanup of cemeteries goes in full swing nationwide, a network of
environmentalists and an organization of chest physicians advised tomb
caretakers and cleaners to obey the prohibition against open burning that is
enshrined in two major environmental laws.

In a joint statement, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Philippine College of
Chest Physicians reminded the public that it would be both unlawful and
unhealthy to burn discards from the clearing of tombs in preparation for the
All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day come November 1 and 2.

Among the discards commonly produced from the clearing operations include grass
clippings, plant cuttings, downed or pruned tree limbs and branches and other
organics, paint cans, thinner and varnish containers, soiled newspaper, plastic
bags, bottles and other disposable items, food wrappers and cigarette butts.

The groups issued the advisory after spotting incidents of mixed waste open
burning at the Manila North Cemetery and Manila South Cemetery during ocular visits
conducted on October 21 and 22, 2012 (please see photos at http://ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com/)

“We call upon the general public, particularly the tomb caretakers and
cleaners, not to set post-cleanup discards ablaze because doing so is both
illegal and unhealthy. We also appeal to cemetery administrators to firmly
enforce the ban,” said Christina Vergara, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste

Both Republic Act 8749, the Clean Air Act of 1999, and Republic Act 9003, the
Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, ban the open burning of garbage.

Section 13, Rule XXV of RA 8749’s Implementing Rules and Regulations states
that “no person shall be allowed to burn any materials in any quantities
which shall cause the emission of toxic and poisonous fumes,” while
Section 48 of RA 9003 prohibits “the open burning of solid waste.”

“The ban on open burning in two landmark environmental laws is a clear
indicator of the critical importance of such a prohibition for public health
and welfare,” she said.

Open burning releases loads of health-damaging pollutants that are invisible to
the naked eyes, including particulate matter (PM), dioxins and furans, lead,
mercury and other heavy metals, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,
halogenated carbons, and volatile organic compounds, the groups warned.

“Pollution from airborne PM is a major public health concern; the adverse
effects of which, involving morbidity and mortality, are principally seen in
the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. PM can trigger asthma and heart
attacks in some people,” said health specialist Dr. Maricar Limpin, immediate
past president of PCCP.

“Even the mere burning of dry leaves and other yard waste produces significant
amounts of air pollutants that can put the public health at risk,” she said.

Citing a fact sheet from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the
EcoWaste Coalition and PCCP warned that the common practice of burning dry
leaves and other biodegradable discards yields “toxic, irritant, and
carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds” such as microscopic PM (also known as
particles), hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

“If inhaled, these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of
the lung and remain there for months or even years. Breathing particulate
matter can increase the chances of respiratory infection, reduce the volume of
air inhaled and impair the lungs’ ability to use that air,” the EPA explained.

According to the EPA, “hydrocarbons are chemicals that can exist as both gases
and solid particles. Because leaves are often moist and burn without proper air
circulation, they often burn poorly, producing high levels of hydrocarbons.
Some of these hydrocarbons, such as aldehydes and ketones, cause irritation of
the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. A substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in
leaf smoke consists of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are
known carcinogens.”

“Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that results from incomplete combustion,
and burning leaf piles are ideal for creating carbon monoxide emissions. Carbon
monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and combines with
red blood cells. This reduces the amount of oxygen the red blood cells can
absorb and supply to body tissues. Unborn children, newborn infants, smokers,
the elderly, and persons with heart and chronic lung disease are more
susceptible to carbon monoxide than the general population,” the EPA said.

To avoid exposure to harmful
chemicals resulting from open burning, the EcoWaste Coalition and the PCCP
encouraged the public to prevent and reduce the generation of waste, and
practice ecological management of discards at all times.