EcoWaste Coalition Bats for Safe Disposal of Busted Lamps Containing Mercury

Quezon City.  An environmental network promoting zero waste and chemical safety again reminded the general public against the improper disposal of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps.

The EcoWaste Coalition issued the reminder after visiting 10 public schools in the city of Manila last May 22 and 23 to observe the conduct of this year’s Brigada Eskwela where it found dozens of busted fluorescent lamps dumped in mixed garbage bins and heaps or lying around the school corridors, thereby increasing the threat of lamp breakage.

“We appeal to the public to exercise essential precautions when installing new lamps and discarding busted ones to avoid breakage that will let the elemental mercury vapor to escape from the lamp and  contaminate the surroundings,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“We also appeal to the government, particularly to the Department of Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to establish and enforce a system that will ensure the environmentally-sound management of mercury lamp waste, including a take back mechanism for busted lamps, to protect the public health and the environment,” he said.

R.A. 6969, the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act, considers lamp waste as hazardous and thus requiring safe management and disposal, while R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, classifies lamp waste as special waste that should not be combined with compostable and recyclable waste, the EcoWaste Coalition reminded.

A study prepared by the EcoWaste Coalition and published in a United Nations Environment Programme’s report on heavy metals in products has noted some challenges in the country’s mercury lamp waste management such as the lack of  producer responsibility or take back system for discarded lamps, the lack of mercury information and precaution on product labels, the lack of public education on mercury exposure and emergency response measures, the lack of a functional system for collecting busted lamps, including storage, and the informal recycling of busted lamps in dumpsites and junk shops that releases mercury vapor into the environment.

The “Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management” guidebook published by the government has warned that “mercury and its compounds are highly toxic especially to the developing nervous system, which is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.”

“Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause permanent brain damage, central nervous system disorders, memory loss, heart disease, kidney failure, liver damage, vision loss, sensation loss, and tremors,” the guidebook said.

To prevent mercury exposure from broken fluorescent lamps, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated the following safety reminders:

1.  Handle spent mercury-containing lamps with extreme care as they can easily break.

2.  Do not burn lamps containing mercury or throw them into regular waste bins.

3.  Do not play with discarded lamps or leave them lying around.

4.  Return spent lamp to its original box container or place in a clear plastic bag, seal and  mark “Toxic: Lamp Waste with Mercury.”

5.  Put the properly wrapped and labeled lamp waste into a secured place for temporary storage.

6.  For increased protection against breakage, store spent lamps in an upright position and place in a covered tin or plastic container for smaller lamps or in a cupboard for linear lamps.

7.  Mark the container where the lamp waste is stored with a readable warning: “Toxic: Lamp Waste with Mercury.”

8.  Keep the storage area safe, out of children’s reach and away from the elements and human traffic.

9.  Contact fluorescent lamp manufacturers and/or distributors to check if they have a take-back program for their spent products  or suggest a take back program if they have none.