The Philippines marks this year’s International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (ILPPW) with the historic phase-out of paints containing lead additives as backdrop.
EcoWaste Coalition is a public interest network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups pursuing sustainable solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues facing the Philippines and the world.
The Philippines marks this year’s International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (ILPPW) with the historic phase-out of paints containing lead additives as backdrop.
The Philippines will remain a preferred destination for waste shipments as long as the government continues to refuse calls to enforce a comprehensive ban on all waste imports, environment groups Greenpeace Philippines and EcoWaste Coalition warned today following the interception of US waste materials at the Subic Bay International Terminal on Wednesday.
This latest waste importation incident involving containers loaded with mixed waste (including old cardboard, plastic packaging and used face masks) which was misdeclared as old corrugated cartons, shows how richer countries, like the US, continue to prey on the Philippines’ loose regulations on waste importation.
Data from The Last Beach Cleanup shows that while the volume of plastic waste imports from the US has decreased since 2019, the Philippines still imported over a million kilograms of plastic waste from the US from January to August 2020 alone . However, this data does not include unreported or misreported waste imports which continue to hound the country.
“Waste trade continues to happen because it is permitted,” Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Marian Ledesma said. “The fact that we continue to be a dumping ground of countries like the US shows that the government has not been doing enough to stop waste imports: the sad reality is that we don’t have strong policies in place to prevent it.”
Greenpeace and EcoWaste have been calling on the Duterte administration to ratify the Basel Convention Ban Amendment , which will align Philippine policies with global efforts to curb waste trade, as well as certify as urgent the pending bills calling for a comprehensive ban on waste importation. So far, there has not been significant movement on the two much-needed policy actions.
“To put an end to foreign waste dumping, the government must see to it that these twin legal measures are acted upon without further delay. The ratification of the Basel Convention Ban Amendment and a total ban on waste importation will send a strong message that the Philippines is not a dumping ground, and that rich countries must take full responsibility for managing their waste instead of exporting them to other countries,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
According to the two groups, there is now a greater imperative to ensure the two policy measures are enacted. The current COVID crisis has caused a tremendous increase in waste generation globally, which may translate to a rise in the volume of illegal waste imported to countries like the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines may continue to be a likely destination; its neighbors have announced impending, or are already implementing, strong waste import regulations or bans .
Ledesma said that by continuing to accept garbage from other countries, the government is opening up our nation to exploitation, which aggravates the country’s health and environmental problems. “This is a great injustice to Filipino communities. Illegal shipments have resulted in added waste management costs shouldered by Filipinos, community exposure to hazardous waste and environmental contamination. These injustices are bound to occur again and again until the Philippines bans waste imports completely.”
A March 2020 report , co-published by Greenpeace and Ecowaste, details the policy loopholes that turn the Philippines into a dumping ground for developed countries. Aside from ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment, the country must also streamline the definition of “waste” in the Philippine laws, as well as implement stringent monitoring systems to ensure the proper handling of imported waste, which are often exploited by origin countries and regions.
Notes to editors:
 The Last Beach Cleanup October 2020 Plastics Exports & Facts Briefing https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dRpL3kMN4gRIdHIMRkhfkKLKIQ5d9AKi/view
 The Philippines has yet to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries.
 Indonesia and Malaysia have both ratified the Basel Convention Ban Amendment. Thailand has announced its goal to end imports of waste by 2021, while Vietnam plans to ban plastic scrap imports by 2025. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/trash-trade-wars-southeast-asias-problem-worlds-waste
 “Waste trade and the Philippines: How local and global policy instruments can stop the tide of foreign waste dumping in the country”
Metal water bottles coated with unleaded paint
As the observance of the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week kicks off this Sunday, a toxics watchdog group urged retailers to stop the sale of lead painted metal water bottles that may pose a lead exposure risk, especially to young children.
The EcoWaste Coalition appealed for retailers’ speedy action after finding excessive levels of lead on the surface paint of nine metal water bottles in violation of DENR A.O. 2013-24, or the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds that bans such chemicals in paint greater than 90 parts per million (ppm).
“As the paints used in these water bottles pose a health and safety hazard, we appeal to all ethical and socially responsible retailers to take them off the shelves, recall products already sold, and send the remaining units back to where they were sourced," said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“In pursuance of the country’s ban on lead-added paints, we urge all companies to only manufacture, import, distribute or sell duly certified lead-safe products that will not harm consumer health,” he emphasized, noting “young children are most susceptible to lead poisoning.”
The group explained that the surface coating of a lead painted metal water bottle will break or chip over time due to regular use and wear and tear of the product, and may end up being ingested by a child, causing a health and safety hazard.
As part of its continuing advocacy for a toxics-free society, the group recently purchased 22 painted metal water bottles costing P125 to P420 each from retail stores located in Caloocan, Makati, Manila, Pasay and Quezon Cities.
The products collected from the test buys were subsequently screened for lead using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device, which detected lead in the range of 1,319 to 93,380 ppm in nine samples (41 per cent).
The surface coating of a green painted water container with "Super Elephants" design was found to contain 93,380 ppm of lead; a yellow container with "Minion" design had 43,500 ppm; a yellow container with "Bear" design had 23,100 ppm; a red container with "happy day for you" text had 9,559 ppm; a yellow container with a "Giraffe" design had 9,304 ppm; a brown container with "Winnie the Pooh" design had 7884 ppm; a red container with "Car" design had 7,704 ppm; a pink container with white dots had 2,047 ppm; and a plain red container had 1,319 ppm of lead.
“The non-detection of lead in 13 out of 22 samples point to the commercial availability of paints without toxic lead additives. It also signifies that products can be safely decorated with unleaded paints,” noted Dizon.
According to an infographic produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), “lead is toxic and is harmful to everyone,” stressing "there is no safe level of lead exposure."
“Young children are most vulnerable. Their nervous systems are still developing and they absorb 4-5 times more lead than adults, which can cause intellectual disability, underperforming at school and behavioral issues,” said WHO.
“In adults, lead exposure increases the risk of ischaemic heart disease and stroke. In pregnant women, lead exposure damages many organs but also affects the developing fetus,” added WHO.
WHO, the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), which includes the EcoWaste Coalition, and other partners of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint are raising awareness about the health effects of lead exposure, and are promoting the accelerated global phase-out of lead paint through regulatory policies and measures.
As the International E-Waste Day is observed tomorrow, October 14, environmental health groups EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace nudged the government of the Philippines to ban the importation of electronic waste, or e-waste, like what Thailand has recently done.
“The Thai policy banning the entry of e-waste was imposed to protect public health and the environment from toxic pollution resulting from the dirty recycling of these hazardous waste imports. It’s high time for our own government to follow in the footsteps of Thailand and enact a sweeping ban on the importation of e-waste, plastic waste and other wastes for environmental health and justice,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“With our neighbors closing doors to all kinds of waste imports, our country is in danger of becoming the most preferred destination in the region for waste. The Philippine government must plug all holes that allow our country to be a dumping ground by ratifying the Basel Convention Ban Amendment and enacting a total ban on waste imports ,” said Marian Ledesma, Campaigner, Greenpeace Philippines.
The sweeping prohibition on waste imports, the groups asserted, will serve as a strong deterrent against schemes to transfer hazardous waste and other wastes from other countries to the Philippines where such wastes can be cheaply processed, recycled or disposed of at the expense of people’s health and the environment.
The groups cited the botched smuggling of e-waste -- falsely declared as “assorted electronic accessories” -- from Hong Kong that was discovered at a port in Northern Mindanao in May 2019. As reported by customs officials, the shipment was intended as a “test cargo,” and that 70 more containers would have followed had it not been intercepted. The trash was returned quickly to the sender after its discovery.
Both groups are pushing for the ratification by the Duterte administration of the Basel Convention Ban Amendment, an international law prohibiting the export of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries, and for the imposition of a more encompassing ban on waste importation.
According to the groups, ratifying the Basel Convention Ban Amendment and banning waste importation on the whole will allow the Philippines to focus on its own waste management issues, fully enforce waste and pollution prevention laws, and improve clean recycling facilities with government support and possibly incentives.
Adopting these twin measures, the groups added, will encourage the enactment of other essential policies and regulations to prevent and reduce waste generation, including the ban on single-use plastics, the promotion of reuse and refill systems, the adoption of extended producer responsibility and other strategies toward clean production, zero waste and a toxics-free society.
Last September 15, the Thai Ministry of Commerce announced the start of a historic ban on the importation of 428 types of electric and electronic components and scraps.
Violators will be jailed for up to 10 years, or fined five times the price of the illegal waste import, or both.
As reported by Bangkok Post, the government will also carry out activities “to encourage public participation in environmental protection” as it urged all sectors “to hasten efforts to improve the efficiency in handling domestic e-waste, optimize resources and recycle properly.”
Last year, the EcoWaste Coalition wrote to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to reiterate the need to ratify the Basel Convention Ban Amendment and to propose a comprehensive ban on the importation of wastes, including plastic and electronic wastes, which is still allowed under DENR A.O. 2013-22.
DENR A.O. 2013-22 permits the importation of “recyclable materials” such as scrap metals, scrap plastics, electronic assemblies and scrap, used oil and fly ash subject to certain limiting conditions and compliance to the requirements set by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).
Environmental health groups participated in stakeholders’ meetings convened by the EMB to push for the ratification of the Basel Convention Ban Amendment and the revision of DENR A.O. 2013-22, insisting that the Philippines must take a strong stand to put a stop to waste dumping from overseas.
It’s not only mercury-containing skin whitening cosmetics that are being sold online.
The EcoWaste Coalition made the shocking discovery after finding mercury thermometers, which are used to measure body temperature and sphygmomanometers, which are used to measure blood pressure, as well as liquid mercury in flask containers, being sold illegally by third-party dealers in e-commerce marketplaces.
The group had previously aired its concern over the sale on popular online shopping platforms of skin whitening products banned by health authorities for containing mercury compounds, which are forbidden in cosmetic formulations.
The group’s latest toxic alert coincided with the 7th anniversary of the signing of the Minamata Convention on Mercury on October 10, 2013 by the government of the Philippines at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries held in Kumamoto, Japan. It also coincided with the 10.10 super sale today in some online shopping sites.
“We remind consumers to be cautious and alert to the dangers of buying and using mercury and mercury-added products that are illegally being offered for sale by online dealers,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Mercury is highly toxic,” he emphasized, “so we advise consumers to seek out mercury-free products," stressing that the enforcement of mercury-related policies and regulations, including the environmentally sound management of mercury wastes, should be actively supported.
The group had already notified lead regulatory agencies, particularly the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about the alarming use of digital commerce to vend mercury and banned mercury-added products in direct contravention of the country’s mercury policies and regulations.
The group had reported to the FDA Center for Device Regulation, Radiation Health and Research (FDA-CDRRHR) the online sale of mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers in non-compliance with DOH A.O. 2008-0021 titled “Gradual Phase-Out of Mercury in All Philippine Health Care Facilities and Institutions,” which phased out mercury-containing medical devices in September 2010.
“As civil society representative to the interagency committee that developed the National Action Plan for the Phase-Out of Mercury Added Products and the Management of the Associated Mercury-Containing Wastes, we are concerned that the unchecked online sale of mercury-containing medical devices goes against the government’s policy of preventing and controlling mercury emissions and releases pursuant to the Minamata Convention,” wrote the group.
To address the problem, the group requested the FDA to make a policy issuance reiterating the ban on mercury medical devices. In response, the FDA-CDRRHR confirmed they will “facilitate the development of the requested policy banning or prohibiting the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of thermometers and sphygmomanometers with mercury.”
In a separate letter to the EMB, which was co-signed by Ban Toxics and Health Care Without Harm, the EcoWaste Coalition requested the bureau to get to the bottom of the illegal online sale of liquid mercury, which may be diverted to uses prohibited by law such as mineral processing.
DENR A.O. 2019-20, or the Revised Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Mercury and Mercury Compounds, “prohibits the use of mercury and mercury compounds and mercury-added products for artisanal and small-scale gold mining and any other related mining activities” in line with Executive Order 79.
EMB had informed the EcoWaste Coalition that it had prepared a memorandum to the bureau’s legal division.