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EcoWaste Coalition’s Study: Busted Mercury-Containing Lamps Unsafely Disposed Of Posing Harm to Waste Workers and the Environment
The improper disposal of burned-out fluorescent lamps can pollute the environment with mercury posing health and safety hazards, especially to uninformed and unprotected waste workers.
The EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit toxics watch group, gave the public a word of warning about this threat of mercury pollution to human health and the ecosystems with the release of its new report “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps.”
The report provides visual evidence to the unsafe handling, storage and disposal practices of mercury-containing lamp wastes in 21 local government units in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces.
“We carried out the photo investigation to demonstrate the urgency of ensuring the environmentally sound management of busted fluorescent lamps to prevent breakage and protect the public, particularly the waste workers, from shards and mercury exposure,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Occupational health risks are high for uninformed and unprotected waste collectors, haulers and recyclers who often handle unsorted wastes with bare face and hands, which may include discarded mercury-added products such as fluorescent lights, switches and relays, thermometers, skin whitening cosmetics and dental fillings,” he said.
The photos taken by the EcoWaste Coalition from over 150 locations from February 1 to March 8, 2018 show that burned-out lamps are carelessly disposed of alongside household trash as well as construction and demolition debris, thrown on the streets, dumps, vacant lots and creeks, abandoned on corners and sidewalks with the ubiquitous “bawal magtapon ng basura dito” (do not throw garbage here) signage, and hauled to landfills.
As explained in the report: mercury in lighting products in the form of mercury vapor is released due to breakage during their use or during their handling, storage and disposal, contaminating the air with mercury.
While inhalation is the typical exposure route for mercury released from lighting products, dermal contact with the mercury contaminated phosphor powder that lines fluorescent lamps is another exposure pathway that can impact on those who handle broken lamps, the report pointed out.
According to some studies, the country generates approximately 50 million pieces of lamp wastes per year of which only 0.5 million pieces (1%) are treated off-site, 4 million pieces (8%) are stored, 3.5 million pieces (7%) are sold to junk shops, and 42 million pieces (84%) are disposed of as garbage.
As per inventory assessment by the Environmental Management Bureau, 378.89 tons of mercury and mercury-containing wastes are emitted or released yearly into the environment, which include 23.5 and 2.20 tons from double-end fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps, respectively.
The EcoWaste Coalition’s study indicates:
a. The lack of awareness and compliance with hazardous waste management laws and regulations by household, business and institutional lamp waste generators.
b. The low awareness among lamp waste generators and waste workers about the environmental health and occupational health hazards posed by the improper management of mercury lamp wastes.
c. The lack of a system for a free take-back of end-of-life lighting products despite an order from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) directing the lighting industry to set up a systematic collection, transportation and disposal of lamp wastes.
To rectify the situation and foster the environmentally sound management of mercury lamp wastes, the EcoWaste Coalition has put forward a number of recommendations, including the following:
a. For the DOE to get the dormant US$1.37 million Lamp Waste Management Facility with mercury recovery up and running in 2018.
b. For the DOE and the DENR to initiate a participatory review of the implementation of Joint Administrative Order No. 2013-09-0001 on the “Lighting Industry Waste Management Guidelines.”
c. For the Government of the Philippines to proceed with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2018 and the required concurrence by the Senate.
d. For the National Solid Waste Management Commission, in collaboration with environmental health groups, to conduct public information and education on mercury lamp waste management.
e. For municipal and city authorities to craft ordinance to ensure the inclusion and implementation of environmentally sound management of special wastes, including lamp wastes and other household hazardous wastes.
f. For the lighting industry to designate convenient collection programs and/or drop-off points for lamp waste, especially for household and small-sized lamp waste generators, with appropriate receptacles that will prevent breakage.
g. For manufacturers to specify the mercury content on the lamp and its packaging and to indicate the following warning label as required by the Philippine National Standards:
“WARNING: Contains Mercury, Handle with Care and Dispose of Properly.”