Monday, May 2, 2011

Gov’t action sought on disposal of lamps with mercury

Following an investigation on discarded mercury-containing lamps at a garbage transfer station in Tondo, Manila, green groups appealed to the government to come up with an effective mechanism on the collection of spent fluorescent lamps that continue to pose threats to human health and environment.

Environment advocates, led by EcoWaste Coalition, particularly pressed the Departments of Energy, and Environment and Natural Resources, to formalize a system that will prevent the disposal of used fluorescent lamps, particularly from households, into regular waste bins.

A “toxic” investigation earlier conducted by EcoWaste revealed “harmful” levels of mercury vapor from the informal recycling of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) at Pier 18 Garbage Transfer Station in Manila using a mercury vapor analyzer, with the highest reading at 502.45 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3).

The permissible mercury vapor in the environment should only be 100 mcg/m3 (0.1 milligram per cubic meter), according to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“By taking action now, the DoE and DENR, with support from local authorities, businesses and consumers, can reduce the occupational risks being faced daily by our waste workers from the handling and recycling mercury-containing discards,” EcoWaste president Roy Alvarez said.

“A mandatory ‘take back’ program involving producers, including manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of both ‘branded’ and ‘unbranded’ CFLs will be essential in this regard,” he added.

Citing information from the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) publication on “Mercury in Products and Wastes,” EcoWaste warned that “when products containing mercury are discarded into the general waste stream, the mercury pollutes the environment—in waterways, wetlands, and the air - and endangers people both locally and globally.”

EcoWaste, among other groups, has also proposed a seven-point system to DoE and DENR for the collection of lamp waste generated by households and small business and institutions.

It recommended the reiteration and enforcement of prohibition against the disposal of used lamps in dump sites, landfills and incinerators under the country’s major environmental laws and regulations, such as the Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste Act (Republic Act 6969), Philippine Clean Air Act (RA 8749), and Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003).

The group also asked DoE and DENR to notify household consumers about the proper management of used lamps through popular means of communication, stressing that mercury-containing lamp wastes should be sorted at source and appropriately treated as hazardous wastes to reduce mercury releases from wastes.

In addition, EcoWaste recommended assigning Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), also known as Ecology Centers, in every barangay or cluster of barangays as primary drop-off points for used lamps, ensuring that items received are safely stored.

Another measure suggested by the group is the designation of convenient drop-off points or depositories for used lamps with appropriate receptacles provided such as in barangay halls, churches, public markets, supermarkets, malls and hardware stores.


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