02 January 2011

In the aftermath of New Year's Revelry, a watchdog asks: Was the toxic fun really worth it?

As the noise of the New Year’s Eve celebration fades into a hazy memory, a different kind of haze has covered the metro: that of smog from firecrackers and fireworks. The noxious blanket of pollution has prompted a toxic watchdog to decry the continued use of these polluting substances.

The EcoWaste Coalition appealed to the public to examine the aftermath of their revelry in light of the air pollution problem that the metropolis faces in the coming days. “Now that the celebration is over, it’s time to take stock of the damage that was done not just to people and animals, but also to the environment,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“We now have to pay the real price of our merrymaking in the form of aggravated respiratory ailments such as asthma and allergic rhinitis,” added Alvarez. “The extra pollutants in the atmosphere have added another level of danger to the already contaminated air that we breathe.”

Aside from carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and other contaminants, the blasting of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices releases tiny airborne matters or aerosols into the community air. These are collectively referred to as total suspended particulates (TSP), a barometer for air pollution.

Citing information from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), TSP in Metro Manila in 2010 increased from 134 micrograms per normal cubic meters (ug/ncm) to 163 ug/ncm, which is 48% above the normal standard of 90 ug/ncm for one year averaging time set by the World Health Organization (WHO) .

Specific year-ender data obtained by the EcoWaste Coalition from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) showed even higher TSP levels in most of the air sampling areas in the metropolis.

The Taft Avenue-EDSA area, for instance, registered with the highest levels of TSPs at 369 ug/ncm on Dec 28, 2009, and 396 ug/ncm on January 4, 2010 based on 24-hour averaging time.

“The TSP levels in Metro air would have been much worse during and immediately after the New Year's eve itself with the massive lighting of firecrackers and fireworks,” Alvarez said.

Health studies indicate that fine particles in the air can penetrate the upper respiratory tract and be deposited deep in a person’s lungs. Sectors at most risk from exposure to these minute pollutants are children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases.

A 2009 World Bank study stated that “over 1.5 million Filipinos of varying ages afflicted with respiratory illnesses annually are due to air pollution in urban areas, notably Metro Manila. The aggregate annual cost of air pollution related illnesses is close to P1 billion, with productivity losses accounting for P502 million, personal costs for diseases treatment accounting for P360 million and government health care subsidiaries accounting for P88 million.”

Aileen Lucero, coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition’s “Iwas Paputoxic” drive said that the toxic New Year’s revelry “encourages consumers to put the lives and health of many Filipinos at risk for a few fleeting moments of fun.”

“The question we should be asking is: are the lives of our families and friends worth the tradeoff of celebrating on New Year’s Eve? “Why do we continue to willfully damage the environment and our health by using these highly toxic, dangerous and pollutive substances when there are so many alternatives available?,” asked Lucero.

The EcoWaste Coalition has put forward several action steps, which if carried out, would encourage a safer and cleaner celebration of the New Year.
These action steps include the following:

1. For President Benigno S. Aquino III to champion the campaign against firecrackers in the same way he led and succeeded in eliminating "wang-wang” on the streets.

2. For the government to wage a holistic campaign for a safe and climate-friendly New Year revelry that will educate the public about the health, safety and financial threats of toxic noisemakers to humans, animals and the whole ecosystems.

3. For law enforcers to impose a blanket ban on the sale of all types of firecrackers to children.

4. For the health and police agencies to enforce a common revised list of banned firecrackers to include, among others, the notorious piccolo (the firecracker that caused most injuries among children) and "explosives" such as Bin Laden, King Kong, Goodbye Philippines, Goodbye Earth and Goodbye Universe.

5. For the customs and police authorities to enforce the ban on imported firecrackers and fireworks under Section 6 of Republic Act 7183 (“An Act Regulating the Sale, Manufacture, Distribution and Use of Firecracker and Other Pyrotechnic Devices.”).

6. For manufacturers of firecrackers and fireworks to disclose the chemical contents of their products and the resulting pollutants if these are lighted and imposing a “no data, no market” policy.

7. For legislative and judicial authorities to classify the indiscriminate firing of firearms as a heinous crime.

8. For the environmental regulators to conduct ambient air quality survey during and after the New Year’ celebrations to generate more concrete data to guide policy makers and the public.

9. For the authorities to ensure that no public funds will be spent for firecrackers and other pyrotechnics, including aerial fireworks, that will pollute the atmosphere and violate the people's right to breathe clean air.

10. For the authorities to provide financial incentives to barangays promoting community celebrations sans firecrackers and fireworks where money can be spent for communal “salo-salo” and for providing “media noche” packs to indigent families.

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