The meeting held at the auspices of the Barangay Council and the Manila Health Department was in response to a recent “toxic investigation” conducted by non-governmental environmental groups that found high levels of mercury vapor in lamp recycling sites close to the Pier 18 Garbage Transfer Station.
According to Barangay Chairman Luisito Reyes, the Office of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim had instructed the Manila Health Department to address the said toxic expose and provide health information to affected city residents.
“Mercury is toxic to human health and the ecosystems. Steps must be undertaken to prevent mercury-containing waste from being thrown into regular trash and thus endangering the health of families who depend on recycling for livelihood and survival," said Mila Valenzuela, Sanitary Officer of Manila District I.
Speaking at the meeting, representatives of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives cited the need for chemical safety information and other precautionary measures to avoid waste workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals, especially from the recycling of waste electronic and electrical equipment, or e-waste.
“Being informed and alert about mercury and other toxic chemicals in products and wastes should lead to reduced workers’ exposure to chemical hazards in recycling activities,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing Toxic Chemical Threats).
“Our community recyclers in Tondo and elsewhere play a huge role in solving our ecological and climate woes and deserve nothing less than safe and humane working and living conditions. Our pursuit for an environmentally-sound management of spent lamps and other e-waste, including a producer take-back program, should help in easing waste toxicity in the recycling stream and in protecting workers’ health,” said Manny Calonzo of GAIA, which runs a “respect for recyclers” campaign.
During the meeting, the participants discussed and agreed to take practical steps to minimize toxic pollution from recycling activities that can put the health and safety of waste workers, their families and their surroundings at risk.
These steps include carefully retrieving spent lamps from the waste stream for safe and temporary containment and storage, and not breaking the glass housing of the discarded lamps to avoid the release of health-damaging mercury vapor.
The collected lamps should then be sold to participating junk shops and resold to government-accredited transport, storage and disposal (TSD) facilities for environmentally-sound recycling.
According to the NGOs, the costs involved should be in the interim paid for by the government until a comprehensive producer take-back program has been put in place.
Also known as extended producer responsibility (EPR), the mandatory take-back scheme will make lamp manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers accountable for the management of their end-of-life products and thus avoiding their recycling in sub-standard conditions or their disposal in dumpsites, landfills and incinerators.
At the end of the meeting, Barangay Councilors Marlene Tumbokon and Dan Aliman both pledged to craft a health and environmental ordinance that will, among others, prohibit the breaking of mercury-containing lamp waste in their area.