COVID-19 Not an Excuse to Disregard National Ban against Open Burning

A waste and pollution watchdog group has reiterated the need to strictly observe the national ban on open burning stipulated in two major environmental laws amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The EcoWaste Coalition reiterated the prohibition on open burning after discarded materials belonging to persons allegedly afflicted with COVID-19 were recently set on fire at a vacant lot in Barangay Loma de Gato, Marilao, Bulacan.

“The dangerous and polluting practice of burning materials in the open is banned under R.A. 8749 and R.A. 9003.  The COVID-19 crisis is no excuse to disregard the ban on open burning, a process that emits and releases toxic pollutants which can put the health of people at risk," said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

R.A. 8749, or the Clean Air Act, and R.A. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, are major pollution prevention laws enacted by Congress in 1999 and 2000 to protect public health and the environment.

R.A. 8749 states that "no person shall be allowed to burn any materials in any quantities, which shall cause the emission of toxic and poisonous fumes," while R.A. 9003 lists "the open burning of solid waste" as a prohibited act.

"Open burning is an unlawful act that exposes the surrounding community, especially the vulnerable groups, to health-damaging pollutants in the smoke and ash,  It may, in fact, worsen the breathing difficulties being experienced by people suffering from respiratory illness or those who have contracted the coronavirus," Benosa added. 

For his part, Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition, explained that “the burning of discards, especially those made of plastic and chlorinated materials, yields highly toxic pollutants such as dioxins and furans, which are targeted for global reduction, if not elimination, under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

According to a project led by the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that addresses unintentional POPs from open burning, "exposure to dioxins and furans can cause ill effects in humans: cancer, severe reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and hormonal systems, and skin disorders, among others."  

Open burning also produces other pollutants of concern, including particulate matter, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde and greenhouse gases, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

These chemical pollutants are known to cause a variety of adverse health effects such as eye, throat and skin irritation, headaches, respiratory ailments, asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, cancers and other diseases, the group said.

Fetuses, young children, the elderly, individuals with chemical sensitivities and others with underlying medical conditions are prone to the negative health effects of open burning, the group warned.

For the management of potentially infectious waste, the group advised barangay officials to coordinate with the municipal or city authorities for the safe collection and disposal of such waste.

For household healthcare waste such as used masks and gloves, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) advised proper disinfection before disposal to reduce the risk of contamination, particularly among garbage collectors.



Note: The story about the open burning incident at Barangay Loma de Gato, Marilao, Bulacan, as reported by GMA’s news program “24 Oras” last May 25, can be viewed here: