Groups Push for Health and Environment Protection from Harmful Chemicals

Quezon City. Every year on April 7, the world celebrates World Health Day and marks the importance of health for a well lived and happy life.

In commemoration of the event, the EcoWaste Coalition, together with Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Health Care Without Harm, BAN Toxics, and Mother Earth Foundation, sound a loud call for a widespread public awareness campaign in the country about the highly toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

The public health and environmental justice groups are particularly concerned about polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs and how best to protect the general public and the environment from adverse chemical exposures to them.

A health advisory from the Department of Health (DOH) states that human exposure to PCBs, an industrial chemical used mainly as dielectric and heat exchange fluids, has been caused mostly from eating contaminated food and also from inhalation and skin absorption in work places. The DOH warns that the skin and liver are the major organs affected by PCBs, but the gastrointestinal tract, the immune system and the nervous system are also targets.

A draft Code of Practice on the Management of PCBs prepared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cites transformer repair, reconditioning and retrofilling facilities as major industry sector in the country that contributes to the spread of PCB contamination in the country. As of 2006, a partial inventory of PCBs in the Philippines yields some 6,879 tons of PCBs-containing equipment and wastes, comprising about 2,400 tons of PCBs oil.

“As we mark the World Health Day, we call on the government to complete the inventory of PCBs in the country, ensure that all stockpiles are rigorously stored and secured and prevent unsafe recycling or disposal that will expose workers and communities to toxic pollution. It will also be useful for the government to embark on a nationwide assessment of the levels and impacts of PCBs in humans and in the air, water and soil,” Rey Palacio of the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“We further call on all the stakeholders to support the United Nations-assisted project that aims to eliminate our stockpiles of PCBs by employing a safe, non-incineration technology in line with the Clean Air Act and our obligations to protect the public health and the environment from POPs,” added Manny Calonzo of the Global Alliance for Incinerator

By the end of the year, the Philippines is expecting the treatment of the first batch of PCBs wastes and contaminated equipment at the country’s first and only non-combustion treatment facility for destroying PCBs with a destruction efficiency approaching 100%. The facility would not be employing combustion to prevent the creation of the more toxic dioxins and
furans and would be operating in closed system to prevent uncontrolled releases of chemicals of concern.

The following practical can- and must-dos have been compiled by EcoWaste from various sources, such as the DOH and the DENR, to keep the public informed about protecting themselves from PCBs’ harmful effects:

  • Report illegal disposal of PCBs or contaminated wastes to proper authorities such as the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB);
  • Unless you are trained, never handle PCBs and stay away from areas where the chemicals are handled;
  • Wear full body protective clothing when working with PCBs;
  • If you work with PCBs, always wash hands thoroughly before eating and before leaving the workplace;
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in areas where PCBs are handled;
  • If skin contact occurred, wash the contaminated area with running water for 20-30 minutes;
  • If you suspect that you have PCBs-contaminated equipment or materials at home or in the office, secure them in a sealed container until such time that they could be treated in a safe, non-combustion facility.Stay away from PCBs-contaminated sites;
  • If you suspect you may have health problems associated with exposure to PCBs, seek help from a medical physician or call the Environmental and Occupational Health Office of the Department of Health at Tel No. 743-8301 loc. 2325-2327 or the UP-National Poisons Control and Information Service at Tel No.524-1078;
  • Support the project on non-combustion technology for the destruction of PCBs in the Philippines;
  • Call the EcoWaste Coalition at 441-1846 for more information;
  • Tell these to others.

PCBs are clear, amber-colored, or dark oily liquids, which may have a faint smell like motor oil, while some smell like mothballs. They have been widely used in industry in many enclosed and open applications since they were first introduced in the 1930s.

Electric transformers manufactured before the 1990s likely contain PCBs. Other items that could contain PCBs are capacitors and hydraulic fluid and such common consumer items as fluorescent lights, transistor radios, microwave ovens, televisions, refrigerators, and various other electrical appliances, which were manufactured prior to the date.

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 329, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 441-1846