Wednesday, June 15, 2011

‘Dumping of e-waste may ultimately drain LGU coffers’

The continued dumping of electronic waste, through years of unchecked importation of used electronic gadgets, may have already contaminated many urban communities with both chemical and radioactive toxins, and ultimately drain the resources of local government units (LGUs).

The warning was issued anew by two ecology groups, which also said the absence of technology to dispose of electronic waste has led to discreet methods of concealing the waste by pulverizing them, thus leading to what they call “the vanishing e-waste.”

“What is fearsome is the effect of these powdered but highly toxic materials to the environment, as they are being thrown anywhere, contaminating our soil, our water sources, ultimately reaching the food chain,” said Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics.

In his Powerpoint presentation before an audience of local government officials, Gutierrez said “we may be looking at how much toxic waste we have, consisting of plastics from computers of about 552 million pounds, lead from glass of cathode-ray tubes of about 120 million pounds, and mercury of about 632,000 pounds.”

These are the toxic materials found in used television and computer sets discarded by developed countries, and which importers dump here as reconditioned sets sold cheaply, he said.

“E-waste is an urgent topic of concern, especially for countries such as the Philippines, where discarded electronics from countries such as Japan and South Korea are exported as secondhand goods,” he said.

Japan, for instance, he said, “discards 18 million home electronic appliances annually, amounting to 600,000 tons of e-waste.”

The 20-inch TV screen already produced and placed side by side would stretch out “to cover the circumference of the Earth once,” he said, adding that the 14-inch computer screens also placed side by side would cover a third of the circumference of the Earth.

He listed at least five toxic chemicals and elements present in many imported electronic gadgets that would also include old mobile phones, radio sets and those used mainly in communication and transportation, and industrial machinery.

Lead, for one, he said, “accumulates in the environment and has high acute and chronic effects on plants, animals and microorganisms. Lead poisoning is the primary cause of death in cattle in parts of Canada; fatal to birds, etc.”

He added that mercury, “persistent and bioaccumulative, spreads into water supplies, accumulates in living things, and eventually travels up through the food chain.”

He said another element, cadmium, “when it enters the air, binds to small particles, falls to the ground or water as rain or snow, and may contaminate fish, plants and animals.”

Plastics, the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) type, produce dioxins when PVCs are burned.

“Dioxin can contaminate soil and water, and enter the food supply and accumulates in the fat of fish and animals. This can be passed through the breast milk of nursing mothers,” he said.

Brominated flame retardants would also produce toxin that easily find their way in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

Asked about the extent of contamination of fishes and other marine species, Gutierrez said “it would need a study by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to determine it.”

Albert Jubilo, a researcher and member of the Davao City chapter of the Philippine Institute of Chemical Engineers, told the forum on “Educating Communities and LGUs on the Dangers of E-waste” that its study on the poblacion area of Davao City “indicated that the dumping of these secondhand TV and computer sets was already alarming, and these gadgets have found their way in the waste stream, thrown in garbage piles and in the dump.”

“The study was made three years ago, in 2008, and how much more is the situation today? Besides, we only studied the poblacion area. What more if the government or other groups would make a thorough and full-dressed monitoring and investigation?” he told the BusinessMirror at the sidelines of the forum held at the Medical School Foundation Inc.

He urged local governments to generate widespread discussion to prod the national government to make a policy move regulating the import of used electronic gadgets “that may force importers or distributors to package and label the items properly.”

“Local ordinances may compel importers and distributors to label or put information on how to dispose of them after their obvious limited use,” he said.

“The local government should assert its authority over their localities because these uncontrolled dumping of electronic waste, while seen as an economic opportunity, actually threaten the well-being of the local population and, ultimately, tell on the resources of local governments because it would be these LGUs that would be left to manage the threat and damage to their residents and their respective environments,” he said.

“The national government should be told that these items ultimately find their way into the LGUs and households because somebody up there [in the bureaucracy] is not doing his job,” he said.


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