Waste, health and climate change

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos September 22,2014 - 04:56 AM

Berlin, Germany – While President Aquino was having his meeting with Chancellor Angela Markell last week, members of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) from over 30 countries had the opportunity to listen to and interact with a member of the German Bundestag and chair of the Committee on the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Bärbel Höhn.

MP Höhn’s path to environmental advocacy started when she fought against “smoky, dusty, dirty and polluted air” when her then one-year-old kid developed bronchitis forty years back. Asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory and heart ailments, cancer and other life-threatening diseases can be attributed to the polluted air that we breathe.

Researches have shown the tremendous health impacts of waste incineration. A 2003 study on health effects of exposure to waste incinerator emissions reveals that:

“Populations living near incinerators – alike those living near landfill sites – are potentially exposed to chemicals by way of inhalation of contaminated air, consumption of contaminated foods, water or dermal contact with contaminated soil… Health effects that have been reported to be associated with environmental exposure to incinerator emissions include increased risk of a range of cancers (especially lung and larynx cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma), respiratory symptoms and congenital malformations. Some studies have also revealed a higher incidence of multiple births, abnormal sex ratio of newborns and changes in blood levels of some thyroid hormones… Airborne particles, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide are among pollutants emitted from incinerators. PM10 is generally considered as the most important component of urban air pollution and epidemiological studies have shown that long-term exposure to airborne particles is associated with increased risk of developing bronchitis… and some loss of life expectancy.”

(http://www.hia21.eu/dwnld/20131216_Health%20effects%20of%20exposure%20to%20waste%20incinerator%20emissions.pdf)

The battle against incineration continues as Bärbel Höhn believes that there are too many waste incinerators in Germany. According to her, this reality has unfortunately made the more sustainable recycling process more expensive than through waste incineration.

If only the proponents of waste-to-energy technology back in the country can listen to her.

Aside from polluting the environment, incineration produces more carbon emissions in our already over-heated planet. Waste incineration is banned under our laws.

Her discussion of waste incineration and its dark, unhealthy and hazardous side set off a personal longing: we should focus more and prioritize genuine implementation of RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, RA 8749, the Clean Air Act and RA 9729, the Climate Change Act of 2009. RA 9003 and RA 8749 were precisely enacted for us to reduce the polluting greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

But we failed miserably and have to pay the heavy price for gross neglect and indifference.

The massive floods that hit Cebu and Metro Manila and the billions of pesos of damages should already compel action to mend our ways. We simply cannot afford the business-as-usual mindset.

According to the World Meteorological Organization in its Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, “the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide.” It adds that “the observations from WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) network showed that CO2 levels increased more between 2012 and 2013 than during any other year since 1984.”

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud warns: “The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years. We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board. We are running out of time.”

(http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_1002_en.html)

The People’s Climate March of around 100,000 denizens was set to converge in New York City yesterday.

It is dubbed the biggest climate march to pressure world leaders who will meet tomorrow to stop the climate inaction and exercise the long overdue political will to stem the destructive effects of climate change. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Leonardo DiCaprio are expected to lead the march.

For us Filipinos who are most affected by climate change, will the deluge of rain waters from last week’s typhoon Mario finally spur the much-needed action from each one to mitigate its impacts? Will we finally connect the dots and do what we can to reduce our collective carbon footprint?

And, will the Aquino administration finally wake up and let go of its obsession for coal-fired power plants?

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