24 May 2013

EcoWaste Coalition: Are Our Schools Safe from Environmental Pollutants?

Are our public schools safe from health-damaging environmental pollutants?

A waste and pollution watchdog posed this question as the annual Brigada Eskwela, or the National Schools Maintenance Week, bring to a close tomorrow.

“While fully appreciative of the efforts of school principals, teachers, parents, pupils, janitors and community volunteers, we cannot help but ask if the school environment has become truly healthy and safe for the kids after the cleanup activities,” said Aileen Lucero, Acting National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

The group raised the question after visiting 20 public elementary schools in Malate, Paco, Pandacan, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Andres, Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, Santa Mesa and Tondo in the city of Manila.

During the ocular visits conducted on May 22 and 23, the EcoWaste Coalition observed several acts that could have caused the formation and release of some major pollutants into the school environment. Relevant photos can be seen at http://ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com/

Among these were:

1. The open burning of discards as what the group witnessed at Moises Salvador Elementary School, Trinidad Tecson Elementary School and Doña Aurora Quezon Elementary School. Open burning, which is illegal under Republic Act 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act), generates toxic byproducts such as particulate matters, greenhouse gases, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, halogenated carbons and volatile organic compounds.

2. The improper disposal of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps at General Maximo Hizon Elementary School, Justo Lukban Elementary School and Santa Ana Elementary School where busted lamps were found mixed up with regular trash. Spent lamps, which are classified as “special waste” under R.A. 9003, should not be simply thrown into the bins to avoid breakage resulting to mercury spill. According to a government-published “Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management” guidebook, “mercury and its compounds are highly toxic especially to the developing nervous system.”

3. The popular practice of painting school walls, doors, window sills, chairs and tables as observed in many schools, which raises the issue of lead paint and lead paint removal, which if improperly done will contaminate the surroundings with lead dust.

Zeroing in on lead exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition expressed concern over chipping paint that may contain lead, a potent neurotoxin, in many government-supplied wooden and metal chairs and tables, and even in the balusters and banisters of staircases of most schools.

“Our concern for lead exposure in the school setting is not without basis,”said Lucero.

She recalled that last year her group detected lead up to 13,600 parts per million (ppm) - way above the US permissible limit of 90 ppm for lead in paint and surface coatings - in several chairs and tables from a public elementary school and daycare center in Carmona, Cavite and in Tatalon, Quezon City.

“Children get most of their exposure from lead paint, dust and soil in and around places where they spend most of their time such as in homes, schools and playgrounds. Ingesting lead through their common hand to mouth behavior is the primary route of childhood exposure,” she pointed out.

“It’s high time that the Department of Education as well as local government and school authorities adopt and enforce a ‘no lead paint’ policy. Steps should also be exerted to assess the safety of our schools from lead contamination. For starters, painted school furnishings such as the chairs and tables used by kids in the classrooms, libraries and canteens should be analyzed for lead, so proper remedial measures can be carried out,” she said.

Citing information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the EcoWaste Coalition said that “children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage.”

WHO has warned that “childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year,” and has recommended risk mitigation measures to prevent childhood lead exposure, including phasing out lead in paints and eliminating the use of lead in homes, schools, school materials and children’s toys.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.


List of schools visited by the EcoWaste Coalition on May 22-23, 2013:

(Paaralang Epifanio de los Santos); Paco (Fernando Ma. Guerrero Elementary School, Justo Lukban Elementary School, Silahis ng Katarungan Elementary School); Pandacan (Bagong Barangay Elementary School, J. Zamora Elementary School); Quiapo (A. Mabini Elementary School); Sampaloc(Dr. A. Albert Elementary School, Gen. L. Geronimo Elementary School, Juan Luna Elementary School, Juan Sumulong Elementary School, Laong Laan Elementary School, Moises Salvador Elementary School, Trinidad Tecson Elementary School); San Andres (Dona Aurora Quezon Elementary School); Santa Ana(Santa Ana Elementary School); Santa Cruz (A. Regidor Elementary School); Santa Mesa (P. Gomez Elementary School, Pio del Pilar Elementary School); Tondo (General Maximo Hizon Elementary School)

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