A waste and pollution watch group exhorted poll candidates to avoid immoderate use of plastic vinyl tarpaulins ahead of the start of the official campaign period for senatorial aspirants and party list groups on February 12.
The EcoWaste Coalition pointed out that plastic tarpaulins may contain cadmium, a heavy metal with a high toxicity that is used as plastic colorant and/or stabilizer. Cadmium is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) among the “ten chemicals of major public health concern” along with arsenic, asbestos, dioxins, lead, mercury and other highly hazardous substances.
Cadmium and its compounds are also included in the expanding list of priority chemicals that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “has determined to potentially pose unreasonable risk to public health, workplace and the environment.”
“The mass production of tarpaulin banners and posters for the midterm election campaign will surely add to the plastic pollution that our country is wrestling with. It’s not a simple solid waste issue as these popular campaign materials are laden with toxic chemicals such as cadmium that may negatively impact on our people’s health and the environment,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
Cadmium, according to the WHO, exerts toxic effects on the renal, skeletal and respiratory systems, and is classified as a human carcinogen.
“After the campaign, the used tarps will be removed and buried in landfills where cadmium and other chemical additives may be discharged as the dumped materials break down. Some of these tarps may even end up being burned, a process that will cause the formation and release of dangerous byproducts of combustion called dioxins,” he added.
To draw attention to the toxicity of ubiquitous plastic tarpaulins, the EcoWaste Coalition sent five tarpaulin samples of fictitious poll candidates named after popular “teleserye” lead characters to SGS, a global testing company, for cadmium analysis. Two laboratory tests were done for each tarpaulin sample: first, on the scraped coatings, and, second, on composite materials.
The colorful samples measuring 24 by 36 inches and costing P100 to P150 each were made by commercial sign makers located in Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay and Quezon Cities.
Based on test reports received last February 1, 2019, the samples, which were analyzed for cadmium in paint and other similar surface coatings, were found to contain cadmium in the range of 515 to 1,038 parts per million (ppm). The average cadmium content of the samples was 718 ppm, exceeding the 100 ppm limit set by the European Union for cadmium in plastics.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “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,” the UN agency said.
To prevent cadmium pollution and reduce their associated health effects, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the DENR, particularly the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), to fast track the approval of a strong Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Cadmium and Cadmium Compounds.
It will be recalled that the EcoWaste Coalition through a letter sent to the DENR-EMB in March 2016 requested the agency to initiate the crafting of a CCO following the group’s detection of high concentrations of cadmium in certain materials and products.
“We believe that a CCO is urgently needed to prohibit, limit or regulate the use of cadmium, particularly in the production of certain products that could expose the public from preventable sources of cadmium exposure, or pollute the environment with cadmium through unsafe disposal practices,” the group said.
In the absence of a clear-cut regulation banning or restricting cadmium in plastics, including tarpaulins, the EcoWaste Coalition appealed to all poll candidates to adhere to the COMELEC rules on lawful campaign propaganda, keep materials within proper limits, and ensure that such materials are removed promptly after the polls for environmentally-sound management.
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Note: European Commission Regulation No. 494/2011 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.