Expert thwarts progress of pro-incineration bill in Congress

Quezon City. An environmental scientist told pro-incineration congressmen during a committee meeting that burning wastes is bad, foiling a pro-incineration bill’s passage by the body.

“There is no such thing as clean incineration. They all produce pollutants,” Dr. Jorge Emmanuel said on Tuesday, during House of Representative’s Committee on Ecology meeting on House Bill No. 3161, authored by Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice.

The Erice bill, which was hoping to move up to the plenary level, was instead sent back to the technical working group on incineration for further discussion.

The proposed bill seeks to allow burning of municipal, hazardous, and medical wastes, which was prohibited by the Clean Air Act or Republic Act 8749. Section 20 of the law defines incineration “as the burning of municipal, biomedical and hazardous waste, which process emits poisonous and toxic fumes….”

Dr. Emmanuel, who worked as consultant to the World Health Organization, World Bank, Swiss Red Cross, USAID, US National Institutes of Health, and other organizations, providing assistance to about 40 countries on incineration, non-incineration technologies, and waste management expressed his opposition against the Erice bill.

“I respectfully oppose the bill,” Emmanuel stressed. “It is a serious step backwards from the standpoint of the protection of public health,” he continued saying that, “Incinerators produce the most toxic compound known in science …which I will simply call dioxins …toxic at very low levels and are known to cause cancers.”

Dioxins, according to the WHO, are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

Emmanuel raised concerns on the capability of the Philippine government to monitor dioxin emissions to ensure that incinerators, should they be allowed, are operating according to best environmental standards.

“The Philippines does not have the technical in-country capacity to analyze for dioxins from incinerators. There are no labs in DENR/EMB, DOST or DOH that can analyze for dioxins. Samples have to be sent to the US, Japan or other countries to undergo these expensive tests,” he explained.

He stressed also that “costs of high tech incinerators meeting dioxin limits are two to three times higher than non-incineration technologies, with operating costs …as much as 20 times higher than non-incineration technologies.”

Ecological solid waste management is still the sound solution

Emmanuel emphasized further that incineration “is a move away from environmentally sound best practices of segregation, waste minimization, and environmental protection.”

“There are case studies worldwide that have shown that when communities decide to reduce waste, increase recycling, improve composting, etc., incinerators and waste-to-energy plants end up losing money and have to shut down,” he explained.

For their part, green groups headed by the EcoWaste Coalition support Dr. Emmanuel’s statement and urged the government to advance and invest resources toward the genuine implementation of the almost 15-year old Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (Republic Act 9003) instead of pushing for such toxic quick-fix solution to the country’s wastes problem like incineration.”

The groups asked the public to mark pro-incineration congressmen who will support the Erice bill.

“Any government official who will support this bill show their lack of genuine concern for the health and environment of the people they claim to represent,” said EcoWaste Coalition National Coordinator, Aileen Lucero.

The groups have earlier sent statements of support to “truly honorable congressmen” who co-authored the Clean Air Act in 1999.

Opposing the Erice bill are Aksyon Klima, Ang NARS Partylist, Ateneo School of Government, Buklod Tao, Cavite Green Coalition, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Green Convergence, Health Care Without Harm Asia, Krusada sa Kalikasan, Mother Earth Foundation, November 17 Movement, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, and The Climate Reality Project Philippines.