Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cebu waste workers take a break to discuss threats from toxic chemicals

Some members of the Cebu informal waste
sector (IWS) on Monday and took a half-day off from their backbreaking
work to talk about chemical risks associated with their “climate
cooling” but hazard-prone occupation.

The participating waste pickers, garbage collectors and junkshop
owners, who either work or live near dumpsite communities in the
cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Talisay and in the town of
Umapad, took part in a workshop on chemical safety, focusing on the
concerns of the IWS.

They were joined by government and civil society representatives who
also came to learn about the occupational safety and health issues
affecting the IWS and explore possibilities of working together to
limit, if not eliminate, waste workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and toxic watchdog, organized the
workshop in partnership with the City Government of Mandaue, the
Department of Social Welfare and Development Region VII, Freedom from
Debt Coalition-Cebu and Sanlakas.

“The IWS plays a very significant role in recycling valuable materials
that are ultimately returned and reused by the economy. By cutting
greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal and from the use of
virgin materials, recycling by the IWS and the society generate
climate cooling effects,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste
Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against
Toxic Chemical Threats).

“However, their work is fraught with serious risks and hazards such as
the tendency to be exposed to harmful substances, sharp objects and
infectious materials,” she added.

A study conducted in 2004 by the Global Alliance for Incinerator
Alternatives, Mother Earth Foundation and the Smokey Mountain Resource
Recovery Systems, in collaboration with groups in Cambodia and India,
says that “exposure to a cocktail of toxic fumes and other chemicals
in the dump and from open burning is a major threat to the health of
the community.”

Some of the prevailing practices that expose waste workers to a range
of highly toxic chemicals include burning PVC coated copper wires
(that releases dioxins,” the most toxic man-made chemical”), smashing
open TV cathode ray tubes to remove copper yokes (that releases large
quantities of lead, a neurotoxin, and other chemicals of concern),
crashing spent fluorescent lamps with mercury (another neurotoxicant),
and cutting open electrical equipment containing poisonous oils like
polychlorinated biphenyls (a suspected human carcinogen), among

Eileen Sison, NGO representative to the National Solid Waste
Management Commission, who spoke at the workshop, reported that “the
government has already formulated a national framework plan for the
IWS and if the IWS in Cebu can work together, they can be recognized
by their local government and have secure and safe access to
livelihood from recycling.”

“A collaborative approach involving the IWS, the government, private
sector and the civil society is essential to improve the working and
living conditions of the IWS and to address issues concerning chemical
safety, public health and environmental protection,” she pointed


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