Philippines fails to halt toxic waste imports

Press release - August 22, 1996
The Philippines banned hazardous waste imports in 1990, but huge volumes of toxic trash like used car batteries mainly from industrialized countries continue to flood into the country, poisoning communities and ecosystems near battery recycling facilities, the environmental watchdog Greenpeace International said in a report released here Thursday.

The Philippines banned hazardous waste imports in 1990, but huge volumes of toxic trash like used car batteries mainly from industrialized countries continue to flood into the country, poisoning communities and ecosystems near battery recycling facilities, the environmental watchdog Greenpeace International said in a report released here Thursday.

Waste traders have taken full advantage of a loophole in the Philippines' Republic Act 6969, which bans the entry of toxic and hazardous waste but allows an exception for the import of lead acid batteries for recycling purposes. Strict environmental standards and soaring waste disposal costs at home have prompted rich countries to ship their hazardous wastes to the developing world for recycling or final disposal.

Von Hernandez, Greenpeace toxics campaigner for Southeast Asia, said the Philippine government's failure to regulate the entry of scrap lead acid batteries into the country is "a glaring infringement of the spirit and intent of the Basel Ban" which seeks an end to the export of "recyclable" hazardous wastes from member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-OECD countries starting 1998.

"While it can be argued that the Basel Ban only takes effect two years from now, the Philippine government cannot ignore the devastating impact of toxic waste trade on the environment and the health of local communities," said Hernandez.

"By granting permits for large-scale battery scrap imports, the Philippine government is in fact sponsoring the deterioration of the environment and the people it is mandated to protect," he added.

Greenpeace notes a dramatic rise in the Philippines' scrap battery imports in recent years. Data from the National Statistics Office (NSO) show the country has imported at least 76,256 tons of drained and undrained lead acid batteries since 1991, enough to fill more than 38,000 forty-foot Iong container vans. This means that in the past five years, some 42 tons of this toxic waste entered the Philippines every day, or 1.75 tons every hour.

The main sources of lead acid batteries from 1991 to 1995 include Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, all OECD member countries. Trade records, however, show even non-OECD nations like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Chile and Guam have sent Scrap batteries here, highlighting the Philippines' emergence as a favorite destination for the world's toxic trash.

Saudi Arabia now tops the list of car battery exporters to the Philippines, shipping 9,440 tons of used car batteries from 1994 to April this year. Following closely are Singapore with 9,280 tons, and Australia with 8,913 tons.

The sharp increase in battery exports from Saudi Arabia and Singapore in the last three years coincided with a decline in exports from North American and European sources. This has raised speculation that lead acid batteries from the West are finding their way into the Philippines via Singapore, one of Asia's major transshipment trading points.

Sifting through the garbage at a quarry site being used by Philippine Recycler's Inc. (PRI), the country's largest importer of used car batteries, Greenpeace investigators found crushed vinyl cases of lead batteries and pieces of sticker labels for batteries made in such countries as Germany, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

"While the export of lead acid batteries is not as graphic as directly dumping barrels of waste on the beach, the net result is the same --it is as if a rich industry has extended an effluent pipeline across the globe to whatever country is desperate enough to accept any investment, even those awash with filth," the Greenpeace report said.

The flourishing waste trade has taken a heavy toll on the environment and on the health of lead smelting plant workers and people living near waste recycling facilities. Studies have shown that acute or chronic exposure to lead can cause serious neurological, neuropsychological and metabolic disorders.

Soil, river sediment, and vegetation samples collected by Greenpeace investigators near the PRI plant and dump sites in Marilao, Bulacan showed lead levels that greatly exceed the permissible limits in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Local residents complain that pollution from the factory has affected agricultural productivity in the area. They also report an increase in health problems in their community ranging from nausea, burning eyes, sore throat and various respiratory ailments.

The residents have filed a petition asking the government to stop PRI's operations. Community spokesperson Jose Bartolome told Greenpeace that while there has been no concrete response from the government, PRI has been footing the bill for x-ray tests, medical consultations and medicines for residents of Marilao.

"PRI has been offering us money for roof repairs, lost crops and medical expenses, but we want more," said Bartolome. "We want to breathe fresh air. We want to walk on clean soil. And we do not want it just for ourselves because we are already old and may die soon. We want it for our grandchildren."

Greenpeace called on the government to immediately put a stop to the practice of importing scrap lead acid batteries and ensure the strict enforcement of environmental and occupational safety standards in all battery recycling operations in the country.

"The government must also take the crucial step of ratifying the Basel Ban and implementing it into national law to stop the continuing use of the country as a dumping ground for the world's toxic waste," Hernandez said.

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