Toxic trash from New Zealand mocks Global agreement to stop trade in hazardous waste

Pollutes local communities in the process

Feature story - July 2, 2003
Huge volumes of toxic trash, particularly used lead acid batteries from New Zealand continue to flood into the country despite an international consensus that prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from highly industrialized countries to developing countries, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

Investigations by the environmental group show that in the last three years, from 2000 to 2002, New Zealand has been exporting used lead acid batteries to the Philippines for recycling at Philippine Recyclers Inc. (1) , a lead smelting plant in Marilao, Bulacan which has long been the subject of complaints from concerned residents and ex-workers.

"The fact that both the New Zealand and Philippine governments have allowed this to happen demonstrates the glaring contempt which both countries have for the Basel Ban which seeks an end to the export of recyclable hazardous wastes from member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD countries," said Von Hernandez, Toxics campaigner for Greenpeace in Asia.

"The Basel Ban was adopted by the international community precisely to protect the interests of developing countries who end up subsidizing the real costs of hazardous waste recycling by way of detrimental impacts on the environment and health of workers and local communities, " he added.

According to the Green Parliamentary Research Office, a research arm of the Green Party in New Zealand, the NZ Minister for the Environment justified the practice of exporting toxic batteries to the Philippines by saying they were going to be recycled at a "proper facility".

However, recent Greenpeace sampling of sediment from the Marilao River, where PRI regularly discharges its effluents show very high levels of lead, especially when compared to levels in sediment taken upstream of the river (2). Greenpeace was also shocked to find accumulating mountains of lead waste residues stockpiled openly and without any form of secure containment inside the company's premises.

These lead waste mountains have in fact exceeded the height of the concrete fence intended to contain the stockpiled waste. Last May, following torrential rains, this concrete wall collapsed causing some of the stockpiled waste to spill into the Marilao River. Greenpeace sampling of these residues showed dangerous levels of lead at 240,000 parts per million, which is 24,000 times higher than the typical background lead levels for soil .

While lead is not water soluble, the likelihood of it continuing to leak out of these waste mounds poses a serious threat to the environment, not to mention the health and well-being of communities around and downstream of the factory.

Local residents in the past have complained about the pollution from the factory. They also reported an increase in health problems in their community ranging from nausea, burning eyes sensation, and various respiratory ailments Greepeace investigations of PRIs operations in 1996 have confirmed these fears. Aside from finding extremely high levels of lead in the soil, river sediment, and vegetation around the PRI plant at that time, the environmental group also carried out an investigation of blood lead levels in children from the community and the analysis of the samples showed that most of the children sampled had blood lead levels above the acceptable level of 10 ug/dl.

Jose Bartolome, a resident of Barangay Patubig said that "the people have grown weary fighting this pollution menace in our backyard, especially after seeing our concerns and demands being ignored and swept under the rug time and again. The DENR and the local government authorities have perpetuated this dirty practice for so long, we seriously doubt we can get any relief from them."

Greenpeace called on the Philippine government to immediately stop the import of all toxic wastes into the country's territory pending a full review of all hazardous waste recycling operations in the country and furthermore, join Malaysia, Brunei and China in the Asian region in ratifying the Basel Ban and reflecting its intent and objectives into national law (3).

The group also said that PRI must immediately ensure safe and secure containment of its lead waste residues. It also said that the company must be held accountable for its contribution to the pollution of the Marilao river, as well as for damages its operations have caused to the health of its workers and the health of residents in the surrounding communities.

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For more information please contact Von Hernandez; 434-7034; 926-2649; mob. 0917-5263050

NOTES

(1) In 2000, New Zealand exported about 738 metric tons of used lead acid batteries (ULABs) to PRI, which was followed by 2,500 MT in 2001. More recently, in November and December of 2002, PRI imporfted ULABs from New Zealand totaling 720 MT and 210 MT respectively. Import permit figures from the Environmental Management Bureau also reveal that the country has been importing scarp batteries from other countries like Romania, Singapore, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

(2) Sediment samples taken in the river front of PRI, which were analyzed at the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry, showed high levels of lead ranging from 98 ppm to 1010 ppm. The typical backgound lead levels in freshwater sediment are 20-30 ppm.

(3) In December last year, at the 6th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, all Parties to the Convention were urged to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment at the earliest possible date so that it could enter into legal force as soon as possible .

The Basel Ban Amendment, once it is ratified by 62 Parties will become part of the Basel Convention and will effectively place a global prohibition on the export of hazardous wastes from member states of the European Union, or the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to other countries. So far, the amendment has received 37 out of the 62 necessary ratifications. While the Philippines has ratified the Basel Convention, it has not yet ratified the Basel Ban Amendment.

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