RP chosen as pilot site for project to destroy toxic stockpiles

Greenpeace welcomes use of safe non-incineration technologies

Press release - May 8, 2001
Efforts to solve the Philippines' problem of hazardous waste disposal got a big boost recently when the Global Environment Facility approved a UN-Ied project to set up environmentally safe non-incineration technologies to destroy stockpiles of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the country, amid growing international concern over these and other highly toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Efforts to solve the Philippines' problem of hazardous waste disposal got a big boost recently when the Global Environment Facility approved a UN-Ied project to set up environmentally safe non-incineration technologies to destroy stockpiles of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the country, amid growing international concern over these and other highly toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Approval of the project came just weeks before the adoption of a global treaty to eliminate POPs. [1] The Philippines, which has been an active participant in the treaty negotiations, is expected to sign the treaty when member countries meet in Stockholm, Sweden, later this month.

The international environmental group Greenpeace hailed this development as a "significant breakthrough in the country's efforts to introduce safe and environmentally sound technological alternatives to the incineration of stockpiles of PCBs and other POPs..." Incinerators, including state-of-the-art varieties, have been pinpointed as major sources of the ultra-toxic and cancer - causing dioxins, another group of POPs being targeted for elimination by the global treaty.

The Philippines and Slovakia were chosen as the pilot sites for the global project because of their huge stockpiles of the cancer-causing PCBs-, one of the deadliest POPs being targeted for elimination worldwide. [2] The Philippines also had the advantage over other countries of being the first in the world to ban waste incineration. [3]

"The approval of this project sends a very strong message that there are safe alternatives to the incineration of POPs stockpiles. While the real solution lies in clean production, existing stockpiles of POPs wastes need to be dealt with in a manner that does not produce even more toxic pollution," said Francis de la Cruz, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The Philippines has no facility that is appropriate for use in the destruction of POPs stockpiles, particularly PCB containing stocks and wastes. Electricity generating and power distributing agencies in the country are stuck with the problem of disposing stocks of PCBs used in old generation transformers and capacitors. Strapped for funds and lacking in technical capacity to safely deal with the problem, these power generating entities like the NAPOCOR and MERALCO store their old transformers together with their PCB waste in haphazard and unsatisfactory conditions posing serious health risks to workers and communities.

Besides demonstrating the viability of non-combustion technologies to destroy and clean up stockpiles of PCBs and other POPs, the project also aims to break traditional economic and regulatory barriers to the adoption by developing countries of newer and safer alternatives to waste combustion. The project will also seek to demonstrate full and effective civil society participation at all project levels.

"The most exciting part of the project is its commitment to harness the energy of community-based organizations and other stakeholders in the project implementation, on top of the capacity building objectives that may result from the transfer of technology. We hope to draw lessons from this project that will be broadly applicable on a global scale for countries with developing economies and economies in transition" de la Cruz added.

Notes: [1] POPs are a class of synthetic chemicals that can cause severe and long-term effects on wildlife, ecosystems and human health. POPs have been implicated in the rising incidence of certain cancers (e.g. breast, prostate, endometriosis, etc), reproductive defects such as infertility and sex linked disorders, declining sperm counts, fetal malformations, neurobehavioral impairment, and immune system dysfunction. POPs are very resistant to natural breakdown and they accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and humans. Many are highly toxic and several have been found to disrupt the hormone systems of wildlife and humans. Of particular concern are the toxic effects of POPs on young children and the developing fetus. Most people are exposed to POPs through contamination of their everyday foods. If the negotiations succeed, the POPs treaty will put an end to the production and use of intentionally produced POPs worldwide and will aim to eliminate sources of unintentionally produced POPs, such as dioxins. The upcoming Stockholm Convention has shortlisted an initial twelve substances for elimination which include organochlorine pesticides (DDT, chlordane, mirex, hexachlorobenzene, endrin, aldrin, toxaphene, heptachlor), industrial chemicals like PCBs, and the super toxic dioxins and furans which are unintentional by-products of certain industrial processes, like waste incineration. [2] There is no reliable, established information on PCB inventories in the Philippines, but in a 1996 study, the UNDP estimates a total of 2,000 to 3,000 tons of PCB oil in the country, likely to be contained or stored in equipment operated by power companies. PCBs are industrial chemicals used mostly as insulating fluids in electrical equipment. They promote cancer and increase susceptibility to disease. [3] In June 1999, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act (RA 8749) which mandates action to address POPs and also incorporates a provision calling for a Ban on incineration. This provision states in part: "Incineration, hereby defined as the burning of municipal, bio- medical and hazardous wastes, which process emits poisonous and toxic fumes, is hereby prohibited...With due concern to the effects of climate change, the Department (DENR) shall promote the use of state-of-the-art environmentally sound and safe non-burn technologies for the handling, treatment, thermal destruction, utilization and disposal of sorted, unrecycled, uncomposted municipal, biomedical and hazardous wastes."

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