24 October 2012

Environmentalists, Pulmonologists Remind Cemetery Caretakers, Cleaners: Open Burning is Illegal, Unhealthy


As the massive cleanup of cemeteries goes in full swing nationwide, a network of environmentalists and an organization of chest physicians advised tomb caretakers and cleaners to obey the prohibition against open burning that is enshrined in two major environmental laws.

In a joint statement, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Philippine College of Chest Physicians reminded the public that it would be both unlawful and unhealthy to burn discards from the clearing of tombs in preparation for the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day come November 1 and 2.

Among the discards commonly produced from the clearing operations include grass clippings, plant cuttings, downed or pruned tree limbs and branches and other organics, paint cans, thinner and varnish containers, soiled newspaper, plastic bags, bottles and other disposable items, food wrappers and cigarette butts.

The groups issued the advisory after spotting incidents of mixed waste open burning at the Manila North Cemetery and Manila South Cemetery during ocular visits conducted on October 21 and 22, 2012 (please see photos at http://ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com/)

“We call upon the general public, particularly the tomb caretakers and cleaners, not to set post-cleanup discards ablaze because doing so is both illegal and unhealthy. We also appeal to cemetery administrators to firmly enforce the ban,” said Christina Vergara, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Both Republic Act 8749, the Clean Air Act of 1999, and Republic Act 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, ban the open burning of garbage.

Section 13, Rule XXV of RA 8749's Implementing Rules and Regulations states that "no person shall be allowed to burn any materials in any quantities which shall cause the emission of toxic and poisonous fumes," while Section 48 of RA 9003 prohibits "the open burning of solid waste."

“The ban on open burning in two landmark environmental laws is a clear indicator of the critical importance of such a prohibition for public health and welfare,” she said.

Open burning releases loads of health-damaging pollutants that are invisible to the naked eyes, including particulate matter (PM), dioxins and furans, lead, mercury and other heavy metals, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, halogenated carbons, and volatile organic compounds, the groups warned.

“Pollution from airborne PM is a major public health concern; the adverse effects of which, involving morbidity and mortality, are principally seen in the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. PM can trigger asthma and heart attacks in some people,” said health specialist Dr. Maricar Limpin, immediate past president of PCCP.

“Even the mere burning of dry leaves and other yard waste produces significant amounts of air pollutants that can put the public health at risk,” she said.

Citing a fact sheet from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EcoWaste Coalition and PCCP warned that the common practice of burning dry leaves and other biodegradable discards yields “toxic, irritant, and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds” such as microscopic PM (also known as particles), hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

“If inhaled, these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of the lung and remain there for months or even years. Breathing particulate matter can increase the chances of respiratory infection, reduce the volume of air inhaled and impair the lungs' ability to use that air,” the EPA explained.

According to the EPA, “hydrocarbons are chemicals that can exist as both gases and solid particles. Because leaves are often moist and burn without proper air circulation, they often burn poorly, producing high levels of hydrocarbons. Some of these hydrocarbons, such as aldehydes and ketones, cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. A substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in leaf smoke consists of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are known carcinogens."

“Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that results from incomplete combustion, and burning leaf piles are ideal for creating carbon monoxide emissions. Carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and combines with red blood cells. This reduces the amount of oxygen the red blood cells can absorb and supply to body tissues. Unborn children, newborn infants, smokers, the elderly, and persons with heart and chronic lung disease are more susceptible to carbon monoxide than the general population,” the EPA said.

To avoid exposure to harmful chemicals resulting from open burning, the EcoWaste Coalition and the PCCP encouraged the public to prevent and reduce the generation of waste, and practice ecological management of discards at all times.





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