Greens appeal to P-Noy to take urgent action on mercury pollution

Manila — As the executive branch gears up for P-Noy’s first State of the Nation Address, green groups today presented 10 priority action points to the Office of the President to combat mercury pollution in the country.

As the executive branch gears up for P-Noy’s first State of the Nation Address, green groups today presented 10 priority action points to the Office of the President to combat mercury pollution in the country.

228 non-governmental organizations and individuals endorsed the “Civil Society Statement on Mercury,” which specifically outlines 10 action points that P-Noy’s administration can do to immediately address the burgeoning problem of mercury.

The statement was also delivered to the Secretaries of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Education and the Department of Interior and Local Government for their action.

“We don’t know where the tipping point of the mercury pollution is, before we see widespread mercury poisoning of Filipinos and wildlife in our country. No one has a clue, and yet our society continues to put this toxin into the environment on a regular basis,” states Atty. Richard Gutierrez of Ban Toxics who initiated the effort. “This is the urgency that prompted us to appeal to P-Noy to take immediate action against mercury.”

In their letter to P-Noy, the groups mentioned that even though mercury is naturally occurring, studies have confirmed that human activity contributes 50-70% of the mercury in the environment globally. In the Philippines, the top 3 mercury-emitting sectors include: 1) metals mining, 2) power generation, and 3) products and processes.

Once mercury is introduced into the environment, it cannot be destroyed, nor will it break down or decay. Mercury then circulates in and out of the atmosphere until it ends up in water bodies and is taken up by smaller organisms, starting the process of bioacccumulation in the food chain over time. 

Mercury is a dangerous toxin that can cause neurological damage and has been recognized to cause cancer and birth defects in humans and wildlife. The most significant concerns regarding mercury exposure are for neurological effects in the developing fetus and children. Thus, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children have been identified as the most vulnerable segment of the population to the effects of mercury toxicity. 

“Mercury is quite prevalent in our society from products such as fluorescent lights to LCD monitors, dental amalgam, cosmetics, and clinical thermometers and other medical instruments,” explains Thony Dizon of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT, one of the participating NGOs. “These products often end up being dumped in dumpsites and landfills and are often burned, causing the release of mercury into the biosphere.”
In their statement, the greens presented these 10 actions for the consideration of P-Noy and his Secretaries: 

1. Develop a comprehensive, fair, and balanced national plan on mercury, which will include support for transparency, effective implementation, and compliance.
2. Phase-out mercury use in products and processes based upon the availability of safe and cost-effective alternatives. 
3. Phase-out mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining through a variety of means, including supply reduction and addressing the issue from a sustainable development approach.
4. Phase-out mercury use in schools and other areas where children and other vulnerable populations to the impacts of mercury could be exposed.
5. Minimize anthropogenic atmospheric emissions of mercury where processes or products cannot be phased-out or mercury use is incidental, through such mechanisms as Best Available Technologies (BAT)/Best Environmental Practices (BEP) requirements.
6. Develop and promote the environmentally sound management of wastes containing mercury, especially through environmentally sound storage.
7. Create, promote and implement a nationwide monitoring of mercury, particularly in the food supplies of humans and wildlife.
8. Provide new and additional financial and technical resources especially for capacity building and information exchange, to enable affected communities to control mercury sources effectively.
9. Provide adequate resources to enable proper and prompt implementation of appropriate mercury control regulations, such as but not limited to, Department of Health Administrative Order No. 2008-0021.
10. Increase public information and awareness-raising especially for women, children, indigenous peoples, fisher folk, consumers of fish, and other marginalized sectors.

“P-Noy’s administration needs to carry this issue forward. They need to build on what the DOH has accomplished in the healthcare sector by providing the necessary funds and political will to see the phase-out through, like the recently released Php 13.2 M allocation for purchase of non-mercurial thermometers for LGU hospitals and additional Php 465,000 for calibration units,” explained Faye Ferrer of Health Care Without Harm - Southeast Asia, one of the participating groups. “From the DOH, they need to extend and synchronize efforts with the DTI to address trade of mercury, DENR to address waste and storage, and LGUs on issues of implementation. P-Noy’s leadership will be crucial in making this happen.”

In spite of the challenges faced in wrestling with mercury pollution in the country, among many issues, the group remained positive in what the P-Noy administration can do. “President Noynoy’s commitment to serve the common good should translate to concrete reforms that will proactively protect our people and the environment from mercury and other toxic pollution,” stated Manny Calonzo of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, one of the participating groups.

The groups also highlighted the need for global action which the Philippines can help lead, noting the ongoing international negotiations to develop a treaty to control mercury pollution under the United Nations Environment Programme. In their letter, the groups urged P-Noy “to look at this [treaty] as an excellent opportunity to bring your transformative leadership to bear change not only domestically but at the international stage as well. Let not the Philippines be simply a passive by-stander, but will it to become an active leader in the fight to eliminate mercury from our global society.”