Group cautions public on improper disposal of mercury-containing lamp waste

AN environmental network promoting zero waste and chemical safety has cautioned the public against the improper disposal of energy efficient but mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

The EcoWaste Coalition made the plea as some 3.6 million CFLs are set to be distributed through congressional and party list representatives from September 22 to 28, 2012 under the National Residential Lighting Program of the Philippine Energy Efficiency Project by the Department of Energy (DOE).

According to the DOE, the distribution of CFLs will translate to 44,702 tons of carbon dioxide emission reduction, which is equivalent to 83 MWh energy savings or P828 million monetary savings.

Under the program, 10,000 CFLs will be distributed free of charge to 5,000 households per congressional district or party list household beneficiaries.  Two 14-watt CFLs will be given per household.

Each 14-watt CFL contains 1.5 mg of mercury, a toxic substance that is often released due to product breakage or through recycling in uncontrolled conditions.

“While recognizing the climate benefits of CFLs, we urge users to strictly follow safety precautions, from lamp installation to disposal, to avoid breakage and exposure to mercury,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Products and wastes containing mercury such as busted fluorescent lamps should be carefully handled and not mixed with regular household discards nor dumped or burned,” Dizon emphasized.

Aside from busted lamps, other sources of mercury in municipal solid waste include discarded thermometers, dental amalgams, laboratory chemicals, measuring devices, skin whitening cosmetics and electronics or e-waste.

Dizon stated that R.A. 6969, the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act, considers lamp waste as hazardous and thus requiring safe management and disposal, while R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, classifies lamp waste as special waste that should not be combined with compostable and recyclable waste.

A study prepared by the EcoWaste Coalition and included in a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on heavy metals in products has noted some challenges in the country’s shift from incandescent bulbs to CFLs.

These challenges include the lack of  producer responsibility or take back system for discarded lamps,  the lack of mercury information and precaution on product labels, the lack of public education on mercury exposure and emergency response measures, the lack of a 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 surroundings.

According to the government-published “Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste Management” guidebook, “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 stated that “mercury is also a suspected endocrine disruptor, which means it damages the reproductive and hormonal development and growth of fetuses and infants.  Even low-level exposure to mercury has caused serious health effects that include neurological damage, reproductive system damage, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.”

Tips to minimize exposure to mercury-containing lamps and wastes:

1.  Do not break.  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.

“As we wait for a system that will ensure the environmentally-sound management of busted lamps, we call on the public to observe these steps to prevent mercury pollution,” Dizon said.

As defined by UNEP, “environmentally-sound management” means “taking all practicable steps to ensure that hazardous waste or other wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against adverse effects which may result from such wastes.”


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