An environmental watchdog warned Sunday that fluorescent lamps that contain mercury can cause chemical contamination if not properly disposed.
EcoWaste Coalition raised the warning after it visited 10 public schools in Manila for this year’s Brigada Eskwela.
The group said it saw dozens of broken fluorescent lamps which were thrown into mixed garbage bins or left in school corridors.
“We appeal to the public to exercise essential precautions when installing new lamps and discarding busted ones to avoid breakage that will let the elemental mercury vapor escape from the lamp and contaminate the surroundings,” EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect
Coordinator Thony Dizon said.
Dizon appealed to the Department of Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to set up a system “that will ensure the environmentally-sound management of mercury lamp waste, including a take back mechanism for busted lamps, to protect the public health and the environment.”
EcoWaste said that based on the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act (Republic Act 6969), lamp waste are considered “hazardous and thus requiring safe management and disposal.”
The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (R.A. 9003), meanwhile, classifies lamp waste “as special waste that should not be combined with compostable and recyclable waste.”
A study prepared by the EcoWaste Coalition, also published in a United Nations Environment Programme’s report on heavy metals in products, said the lack of public education on mercury exposure is one of the many challenges the country is facing in terms of mercury lamp waste management.
It also mentioned some other challenges like the lack of producer responsibility in taking back discarded lamps, the lack of mercury information and precaution on labels, the lack of functional system for collecting busted lamps, including storage, and the informal recycling of busted lamps in dumpsites and junk shops that releases mercury vapor into the environment.
The “Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management” guidebook published by the government has warned that “mercury and its compounds are highly toxic especially to the developing nervous system, which is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.”
“Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause permanent brain damage, central nervous system disorders, memory loss, heart disease, kidney failure, liver damage, vision loss, sensation loss, and tremors,” the guidebook states.
To prevent mercury exposure from broken fluorescent lamps, the EcoWaste Coalition has the following safety reminders:
1. Handle spent mercury-containing lamps with extreme care as they
can easily break.
2. Do not burn lamps containing mercury or throw them into regular waste bins.
3. Do not play with discarded lamps or leave them lying around.
4. Return spent lamp to its original box container or place in a
clear plastic bag, seal and mark “Toxic: Lamp Waste with Mercury.”
5. Put the properly wrapped and labeled lamp waste into a secured
place for temporary storage.
6. For increased protection against breakage, store spent lamps in an
upright position and place in a covered tin or plastic container for
smaller lamps or in a cupboard for linear lamps.
7. Mark the container where the lamp waste is stored with a readable
warning: “Toxic: Lamp Waste with Mercury.”
8. Keep the storage area safe, out of children’s reach and away from
the elements and human traffic.
9. Contact fluorescent lamp manufacturers and/or distributors to
check if they have a take-back program for their spent products or
suggest a take back program if they have none. FATIMA CIELO B. CANCEL