By Manny Calonzo
Environment & You
November 25, 2009, Wednesday
A broadly-supported initiative that seeks to eliminate the country’s stockpiles of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs is steadily being implemented to protect public health and the environment from toxic harm.
An advisory from the Department of Health warns that exposure to PCBs due to inhalation, skin absorption and the intake of PCB-contaminated food can disturb and damage the skin, liver and gastrointestinal tract as well as the nervous and immune systems.
PCBs belong to a group of chemical substances known as POPs or persistent organic pollutants that pose real threat to human health and the local and global ecosystems. The Stockholm Convention, of which the Philippines is a party now seeks the elimination of 21 POPs, including PCBs, as against the original “dirty dozen.”
By way of background, PCBs are light or dark yellow oily mixtures, typically used as insulating materials in transformers and capacitors and in heat transfer fluids and lubricants.
While the Philippines is not a PCB manufacturer, the country has considerable stocks of PCBs due to importation of electrical transformers through the years. According to preliminary government inventory, we have some 6,879 tonnes of PCB-contaminated equipment and wastes comprising about 2,400 tonnes of PCB oils.
We can find them in some electrical utilities and cooperatives, transformer servicing facilities, old industrial plants and commercial buildings, military camps and bases and hospitals.
In line with our country’s obligations under the POPs treaty, the government has developed a National Implementation Plan (NIP) with active support and participation from various stakeholders, including civil society.
One of the key goals of the NIP is to “achieve an effective and environmentally-sound strategy to manage the total elimination and destruction of PCB-containing products, equipment and wastes.”
Even before the NIP was completed in 2006, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had already issued in 2004 a Chemical Control Order for PCBs, which prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer or distribution of PCBs and sets 2014 as the deadline for the phase-out of the use or storage for reuse of all PCB oils and PCB-contaminated equipment, articles, packaging materials and wastes.
With the Environmental Management Bureau at the helm, the government has embarked on a truly innovative project that will help PCB owners and possessors comply with the NIP and the CCO in an ecological and socially responsible manner.
Dubbed as the “Non Com POPs Project,” the United Nations-assisted project will see the establishment of a proven and closed-loop non-combustion facility in Bataan that will eliminate the PCBs without causing the release of byproduct POPs and other toxic residues.
The facility will receive and process PCBs from domestic sources and abide by the incineration ban under the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
The project has earned the support of Bishop Socrates Villegas (former head of the Diocese of Balanga), Sen. Jamby Madrigal who chairs the Senate environment committee and a host of political, community and civil society leaders.
If successfully carried out, the project will help the Philippines achieve its 2014 target and inspire developing countries in the safe and environmentally-sound management of their own stockpiles of PCBs.
While the project is underway, some 50 public health and environmental groups led by the EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Greenpeace Southeast Asia have requested the DENR to complete the inventory and monitoring of the national stockpiles of PCBs to ensure that they are duly accounted for and safely stored.
Stringent monitoring of the stockpiled PCBs is deemed very important to prevent illegal recycling and disposal of PCBs that could only lead to toxic pollution and harm.
(Manny C. Calonzo is co-coordinator of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and president of the EcoWaste Coalition).