Don’t Trash Fluorescent Lamps: The EcoWaste Coalition cautions the public against the improper handling, storage and disposal of busted fluorescent lamps that can result to breakage and the eventual escape of mercury vapor, which is harmful to human health, especially to babies, children, pregnant women and workers.
The toxics watch group EcoWaste Coalition today aired the urgency to address the improper disposal of burned-out mercury-containing fluorescent lamps to curb mercury emissions that can contaminate the environment and harm human health.
At a press briefing held today in Quezon City, the group released its new report entitled “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” which contains over 150 photos taken from February 1 to March 8, 2018 showing inadequate and unsafe practices in the handling, storage and disposal of busted mercury lamps in 21 local government units in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“We conducted this photo investigation to call attention to prevailing lamp waste management practices that are putting the health of the public, particularly the waste workers, at risk from cuts with glass shards and from mercury exposure,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
The mercury vapor in the glass tube of fluorescent light bulbs can escape if the lamp is broken, dumped, burned or recycled in uncontrolled conditions, the group warned.
At present, burned-out lamps are carelessly disposed of alongside household trash as well as construction and demolition debris, thrown on the streets, dumps, vacant lots and creeks, abandoned on corners and sidewalks with the ubiquitous “bawal magtapon ng basura dito”(do not throw garbage here) signage, and hauled to landfills.
“The threat to waste workers’ health is real and serious as they are not informed and protected against toxic substances lurking in the waste stream, including mercury from fluorescent lamps and other electronic wastes, thermometers, skin lightening products, and dental fillings,” Dizon said.
According to the report, “waste workers who handle, collect, store and dispose of lamp wastes are particularly prone to chronic exposure to mercury from the moment such wastes are tossed to the garbage trucks and transported to dumpsites and landfills.”
Speaking at the press briefing, medical doctor and toxicologist Dr. Bessie Antonio said that “breathing mercury vapors is the most typical way to be exposed to this chemical poison, which can harm the nervous, digestive, renal, respiratory and immune systems. Short-term or long-term exposure to mercury vapors will yield a variety of health problems. Infants, young children, pregnant women and workers are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of mercury exposure.”
According to studies, the country generates approximately 50 million pieces of lamp wastes per year of which only 0.5 million pieces (1%) are treated off-site, 4 million pieces (8%) are stored, 3.5 million pieces (7%) are sold to junk shops, and 42 million pieces (84%) are disposed of as garbage.
There is no system yet for a free take-back of busted lamps in the country despite a joint administrative order issued in 2013 by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) directing the lighting industry to set up a systematic collection, transportation and disposal of lamp wastes, the report noted.
As per inventory assessment by the Environmental Management Bureau, 378.89 tons of mercury and mercury-containing wastes are emitted or released yearly into the environment, which include 23.5 and 2.20 tons from double-end fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps, respectively.
To promote the environmentally sound management of busted lamps and minimize mercury pollution, the EcoWaste Coalition has recommended the following action points:
a. For the DOE to get the dormant US$1.37 million Lamp Waste Management Facility with mercury recovery up and running in 2018.
b. For the DOE and the DENR to review the implementation of extended producer responsibility for lamp waste management.
c. For the Government of the Philippines to proceed with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2018 and the required concurrence by the Senate.
d. For the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), in collaboration with environmental health groups, to conduct public information and education on mercury lamp waste management.
e. For municipal and city authorities to craft ordinance to ensure the inclusion and implementation of environmentally sound management of special wastes, including lamp wastes and other household hazardous wastes.
f. For the lighting industry to designate convenient collection programs and/or drop-off points for lamp waste, especially for household and small-sized lamp waste generators, with appropriate receptacles that will prevent breakage.
g. For manufacturers to specify the mercury content on the lamp and its packaging and to indicate the following warning label as required by the Philippine National Standards: “WARNING: Contains Mercury, Handle with Care and Dispose of Properly.”
The EcoWaste Coalition will provide copies of “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps” to the DOE, DENR, NSWMC, the Philippine Lighting Industry Association and other concerned entities to generate concerted action to halt the unsafe disposal of mercury-containing lamp waste that can contaminate the surroundings and endanger the people and wildlife.
Link to The Toxic Silence of the Lamps Study 2018 Edition: