As the government’s “Operation Baklas” against illegal poll campaign materials continues, an environmental watchdog group highlighted the lack of regulation to restrict cadmium, a cancer-causing substance, in plastic tarpaulins.
“Plastic tarpaulins have become extremely popular for all types of advertising and promotion. The use of tarps by politicians running for the May polls is a case in point,” observed Aileen Lucero, Coordinator,
“But, the problem goes beyond the huge volume of tarps hanging on unauthorized places like bridges, cables, lamp posts and trees that have to be laboriously removed by MMDA or DPWH workers,” she noted.
“Most tarps, especially those made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, contain hazardous additives such as cadmium, a carcinogenic substance that is among the ‘10 chemicals of major public health concern’ of the World Health Organization (WHO),” she said.
Lucero cited the results of the chemical screening conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition on 300 pieces of campaign tarps from various national and local candidates that were among those removed by the MMDA from illegal sites.
All of the 300 tarps were found to contain cadmium in the range of 697 to 1,921 parts per million (ppm), way above the European Union’s 100 ppm limit for cadmium in plastics.
“While developed economies have adopted measures to ban cadmium in all plastics, the Philippines has yet to follow suit,” she said.
Lucero cited the European Commission Regulation No. 494/2011, which prohibits manufacturers from placing mixtures and articles produced from plastic material containing cadmium “equal to or greater than 0,01 % by weight,” or 100 ppm.
"We need to ban the intentional use of cadmium-based pigments and stabilizers in all plastics, including tarps and packaging materials, to protect the public health and reduce the amount of cadmium that enters the waste streams, which, at the end of the day, will get dispersed into the environment,” she said.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “products containing cadmium are not typically collected separately from the general waste stream in developing countries. Therefore cadmium discards will end up in municipal waste and disposed of in landfills, incineration, open burning or indiscriminate dumping.”
“Some of the cadmium in these products will be released to the environment, the extent of which depends on disposal method, control technologies applied and other factors,” UNEP said.
Scientific studies have linked long-term exposure to cadmium to high blood pressure, age-related macular degeneration, and cancer of the breast, lung and kidney, which is considered the critical target organ for toxicity of cadmium in humans,
Cadmium is classified as “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
To decrease global environmental cadmium releases and reduce occupational and environmental exposure to cadmium and associated health effects, the WHO has recommended, among other things, the “(reduction) as far as is practicable emissions of cadmium—particularly into surface waters.”
The WHO has likewise recommended the development of techniques for the safe disposal of cadmium-containing wastes and effluents.
As part of its chemical safety and zero waste advocacy, the EcoWaste Coalition hoped to collaborate with the government and the industry in crafting a regulation that will prevent and reduce cadmium releases into the environment and protect the public health.