Sunday, April 24, 2011

‘Mercury vapor levels above normal in Tondo’—environmental groups

ENVIRONMENTAL groups have pushed for proper toxic waste disposal after they detected mercury vapors in Tondo, Manila.

A “toxic investigation” conducted by environmental groups Ban Toxics, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm and the EcoWaste Coalition on April 19 yielded “disturbing levels of mercury vapor in lamp waste recycling stations” at Pier 18, a garbage transfer station.

In a statement, the groups explained that they used a hand-held ambient air analyzer to obtain mercury vapor data from the area where mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were being destroyed before these were disposed of.

They added that they tested 14 used CFLs in two separate breaking sites. The average reading for the tested lamps was 117.20 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) with one product registering mercury vapor of 502.40 mcg/m3.

Above permissible rates

The permissible exposure limit for mercury vapor as set by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration was 100 mcg/m3, they said.

“We need to emphasize that it is not only the lamp waste recyclers who bear the brunt of toxic pollution. The mercury vapor escapes as the glass tubing is broken and travels around, exposing the workers, their children and the environment to this toxic metal,” said EcoWaste Coalition’s Thony Dizon, chemical safety project coordinator.

They cited a government-published guidebook titled “Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management” in pointing out that mercury was highly toxic, especially to developing nervous systems, and that “exposure to high levels of mercury could cause permanent brain damage, central nervous system disorders, memory loss, heart disease, kidney failure, liver damage, vision loss, sensation loss and tremors.”

Handle with care

The groups reminded Filipinos that mercury-containing CFLs should be handled separately from regular waste.

“The data we collected should serve as a warning signal of toxic danger in our midst. Our investigation, we hope, would prompt government and business leaders into enforcing mercury pollution prevention measures such as a practical system for collecting lamp waste and ensuring their safe management,” Dizon said.

The toxic investigation was held to commemorate Earth Day this month and World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28.

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