Sunday, January 2, 2011

At Large, A New Year without firecrackers

RELENTLESS DAILY broadcasts on TV news about the toll of firecracker injuries in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve may have dampened some of our enthusiasm about pyrotechnics. Time was when we would set aside a budget on the day after Christmas specifically for labintador, sparklers, trompillo, fountains and those fireworks extravaganzas in a box that cost, for more complex arrangements, more than a thousand bucks a pop. Indeed, it was like burning money, although in a spectacular, smoky, awe-inspiring manner.

But as I said, the shots of children rushed crying into emergency rooms, holding out hands bloody with missing fingers and mangled flesh took some of the enjoyment out of the anticipated New Year revelry. On the other hand, scenes of adults—many of them drunken men—cringing on gurneys and mumbling regrets into the mikes of TV reporters, filled us only with grim amusement. They should have known better.

So when New Year’s Eve came and we had to rush out of the house for last-minute orders, we simply stopped at a sidewalk stand vending noise-makers, including the ubiquitous, colorful and clownish torotots. My nephew Carlo came bearing two samples of the vuvuzela, which made their world debut at the World Cup, and which he had bought at Toy Kingdom. But it proved rather difficult to produce a sufficiently loud blast from the long plastic horns, and the sound that emanated from them resembled more a calf being led to slaughter than a bullish bellow. And that was all we had on New Year’s Eve to welcome the arrival of 2011.

Our neighbors, though, had other ideas, and we rushed out of the house as midnight neared to catch sight of their annual show. In many ways, it was even better than previous years, since we were often so busy lighting our own pyrotechnics to pay attention to the spectacular show going on around us.

But with our street largely dark and quiet save for the blaring of our horns, we finally had the chance to take in the free show brightening up the dark sky. Carlo would remark, after every fireworks display, “That’s two thousand gone up in smoke.” But it was two thousand well spent because the entire village got to enjoy the sights. And maybe the fact that we didn’t have to spend a peso on fireworks but nonetheless enjoyed the minutes leading to the countdown enriched our enjoyment even more.

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THE ECOWASTE Coalition, which has been campaigning relentlessly against the use of fireworks and mini-explosives to welcome the New Year, has come out with a post-New Year revelry statement to help us assess the impact of Friday night’s events.

“As the noise of the New Year’s Eve celebration fades into a hazy memory, a different kind of haze has covered the metro: that of smog from firecrackers and fireworks,” the Coalition’s statement says.

“Now that the celebration is over, it’s time to take stock of the damage that was done not just to people and animals, but also to the environment,” said Roy Alvarez, president of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“We now have to pay the real price of our merrymaking in the form of aggravated respiratory ailments such as asthma and allergic rhinitis,” added Alvarez. “The extra pollutants in the atmosphere have added another level of danger to the already contaminated air that we breathe.”

Aside from carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and other contaminants, the blasting of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices releases tiny airborne matters or aerosols into the community air. These are collectively referred to as total suspended particulates (TSP), a barometer for air pollution.

“The question we should be asking is: Are the lives of our families and friends worth the tradeoff of celebrating on New Year’s Eve? Why do we continue to willfully damage the environment and our health by using these highly toxic, dangerous and pollutive substances when there are so many alternatives available?” asked Eileen Lucero, coordinator of the Coalition’s “Iwas Paputoxic” campaign.

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IN THE spirit of the New Year, the EcoWaste Coalition has put forward several action steps to encourage a safer and cleaner celebration of the New Year. Here are some:

• For P-Noy to champion the campaign against firecrackers in the same way he led and succeeded in eliminating “wang-wang” on the streets.

• For the government to wage a holistic campaign for a safe and climate-friendly New Year revelry that will educate the public about the health, safety and financial threats of toxic noisemakers to humans, animals and the whole ecosystems.

•For law enforcers to impose a blanket ban on the sale of all types of firecrackers to children.

•For the health and police agencies to enforce a common revised list of banned firecrackers to include, among others, the notorious piccolo (the firecracker that caused most injuries among children) and “explosives” such as Bin Laden, King Kong, Goodbye Philippines, Goodbye Earth and Goodbye Universe.

•For the customs and police authorities to enforce the ban on imported firecrackers and fireworks under Section 6 of Republic Act 7183.

•For manufacturers of firecrackers and fireworks to disclose the chemical contents of their products and the resulting pollutants if these are lighted and imposing a “no data, no market” policy.

•For legislative and judicial authorities to classify the indiscriminate firing of firearms as a heinous crime.

The Coalition also recommends the passage of laws “to ensure that no public funds will be spent on firecrackers and other pyrotechnics” while providing financial incentives to barangays to promote community celebrations without pyrotechnics, with the money to be used for communal “salo-salo,” including the provision of “media noche” packs to poor families.


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