Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Non-Com POPs Project: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Non-Com POPs Project?
The Non-Com POPs Project is a United Nations-assisted project that aims to assist the Philippines in eliminating its stockpiles of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The project will involve the deployment and operation of a commercially available, safe and proven non-combustion technology for managing PCBs.

What are POPs?
POPs are chemicals being targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention to protect human health and the environment from their harmful impacts. The Senate of the Philippines ratified the treaty in 2004. Some of these POPs are pesticides, industrial chemicals and byproducts of combustion or industrial processes.

What are PCBs?

PCBs are a type of POPs commonly used in the past as dielectric fluid for electrical transformers and capacitors. They are also found in old fluorescent ballasts, liquid-filled circuit breakers and voltage regulators, and used in other industrial applications. PCBS are now being phased out due to their characteristics which are as follows:
• They resist degradation and remain in the environment for a very long time.
• They accumulate in fatty tissues.
PCBs, which are suspected human carcinogens, can lead to adverse reproductive, developmental and endocrine effects. The most common signs of exposure to PCBs are chloracne and elevation of liver enzymes.

Where will the PCBs that will be brought to the facility come from?
The PCBs will initially come from the electric power industry, large buildings, and industrial plants with a high demand for a stabilized flow of electricity.

How safe will it be to transport the PCBs and contaminated materials for destruction in the facility?
Transporting PCBs is a delicate job, hence, only PCB transporters registered with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are allowed to transport PCBs. To prevent leakage and pollution, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) has developed the “Code of Practice on the Management of PCBs” as a guidance document that trained transporters have to strictly follow. Prior to their transport, the materials are sealed and packed in compliance with international safety standards, and transported in accordance with the said Code to ensure the safety of the workers and the public. The vehicle to be used will have to pass the same stringent standards, and the driver and assisting personnel will undergo intensive training. .

What if an accident happens during transport?
Additional safety measures are prepared to avoid untoward harm should an accident occur. One example is the placement of wood shavings and other highly absorbent materials around the sealed and packed PCB-contaminated materials, to ensure that any leakage resulting from an accident is quickly absorbed and contained. Everything is then brought to the facility where only well-trained personnel will take care of their proper handling and treatment. To top it all, every transporter is required to prepare and implement a contingency and emergency response plan.

Where will the transported PCBs be stored and treated?
The PCBs will be transported to, stored and treated at the non-combustion facility located at the Philippine National Oil Company – Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC) petrochemical plant in Mariveles, Bataan. Under DENR Regulations, PCBs brought to the facility are required to be treated within six (6) months from the time that it was initially stored.
How safe is the process of destroying the PCBs?
The PCBs will undergo destruction using a non-combustion technology known as sodium-based technology, which involves dechlorination. This methodology for destroying PCBs is being used in Japan and has a total destruction efficiency approaching 100%.

How else is safety assured in the operation of the facility?
The facility will be operated in accordance with the safety procedures of the technology provider. It shall likewise observe compliance to environmental rules and regulations implemented by the DENR. The project shall also have its own monitoring and evaluation activities. On top of it, citizens of the host community, through selected sectoral groups, people’s organizations and non-government organizations will have active participation in the Multipartite Monitoring Team that will keep an eye on the facility’s operations and compliance with all standards and requirements.

Will it produce smoke and garbage?
Being a closed, non-incineration technology, the facility will not generate smoke nor other hazardous byproduct wastes. The decontaminated metal, paper and oil derived from the process of destroying PCBs may be recycled or reused.

Will it accept PCBs from other countries?
No. The entry of PCBs into the country is strictly prohibited under the Chemical Control Order for PCBs, Republic Act 6969 or the Toxic Substances, Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, and also by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, an international agreement.

Where will the project funding come from?
The project will be funded mainly through a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), PNOC-AFC and other project partners from the private and public sectors will provide for the other requirements.

Who are the active participants in the project?
The Non-Com POPs Project is broadly supported by participating groups from the public and private sectors. Specifically, the project participants are:
• DENR-EMB, which has overall responsibility for the project management.
• PNOC-AFC, which will operate the facility.
• UNIDO, which is the implementing international agency.

The EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Greenpeace Southeast Asia provide strong civil society support and participation in the project, together with Ban Toxics, Health Care Without Harm and Mother Earth Foundation. These groups work to safeguard the public interest in decision-making processes and to ensure informed people’s involvement in this pioneering project for human and ecological health.