EcoWaste Coalition Backs DOH's Call to Criminalize the Sale of Cyanide-Containing Silver Jewelry Cleaners

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog on wastes and toxics, has thrown its support behind Department of Health’s proposal to criminalize the trade of silver jewelry cleaners containing cyanide, a chemical compound that is highly toxic to humans and marine life even at low concentrations.

Through a statement released on Monday, “the DOH call(ed) for the immediate passage of a law making the sale and dispensing of these substances a criminal act.”

“The trade of unregistered silver jewelry cleaners with undisclosed cyanide is an atrocious crime that has claimed and continues to claim many lives.  It’s irrefutably a criminal act,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Since crafting a bill and getting it passed into a law will take considerable time, especially if it is not tagged as legislative priority, the EcoWaste Coalition suggested that the government resurrects for the time being a tri-agency Administrative Order (A.O.) drafted by the DOH in 2012.

The DOH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had issued a joint advisory in 2010 banning the sale of silver cleaning agents containing cyanide and other toxic substances, which has not halted the illegal trade.

In a move to strengthen the said DOH-DENR advisory, the DOH initiated and drafted the tri-agency A.O. on the “Ban on Silver-Jewelry Cleaning Solution Containing Cyanide and Other Toxic Substances” to improve inter-agency collaboration involving the DENR, DOH and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).  

“The tri-agency A.O. did not see the light of day for reasons that remain unclear to the public despite the determined push by the DOH to get it adopted,” he said.

“We do not want to point fingers as to why the A.O. did not prosper.  What we want to happen is for the three departments to get back to the table, resuscitate the A.O. and get it adopted and enforced,” he clarified.

“The A.O. should have resulted to specific measures being adopted to reduce incidents of morbidity and mortality due to the accidental and intentional intake of the poisonous cleaning agent,” he said.

“It should have spelled out the responsibilities of the three departments, particularly the DILG, which has jurisdiction over local government and police authorities, to stop the illegal trade of jewelry cleaners with cyanide,” he added.

For example, the DILG under the said A.O. would require the agency to:

a. “Issue the necessary memorandum circular enjoining local government executives (LGEs) to  support this endeavor with a counterpart local ordinance effecting the same in their areas of jurisdiction.”

b. “Direct the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies under its jurisdiction to effect the confiscation of illegal, unregistered and unlabeled silver jewelry cleaners solution/agents sold in commercial establishments such as jewelry shops and other retail outlets and ambulant vendors.”

To bring back the A.O. to life, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the secretaries of the DENR, DILG and DOH to convene a meeting without delay and pass the order fast.

Excerpt from the DOH statement, April 13, 2015:

"A joint DOH-DENR Advisory concerning cyanide-containing substances has been issued in 2010. Taking into consideration the serious health impact of cyanide-containing silver jewelry cleaning solutions, the DOH calls for the immediate passage of a law making the sale and dispensing of these substances a criminal act. Meanwhile, we urge the local government units to pass ordinances banning these substances in their respective jurisdictions."