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Expert cautions vs. incineration

By Catherine J. Teves

MANILA, Jan. 29 (PNA) — An international consultant warned against incineration, noting this process of burning hazardous materials at temperatures high enough to destroy contaminants releases substances that jeopardize public health, the environment and climate.

Filipino scientist and UNDP chief technical advisor on healthcare waste Dr. Jorge Emmanuel gave such warning and urged decision-makers to instead consider alternatives that are safe to help ensure protection of present and future generations.

"We have a responsibility to our children, their children, their children's children and so on," he said at a forum this week in Metro Manila.

Dr. Emmanuel noted technological advances over the years already resulted in several alternatives to incineration.

Among such alternatives are autoclaves, continuous steam treatment systems, frictional heating units as well as batch and continuous microwave units, he said.

Moving away from incineration is already the international trend, he pointed out.

"The solution to waste management isn't technology alone but the whole system, however," Dr. Emmanuel clarified.

He noted conservation of resources, use of renewable and clean energy as well as zero waste lifestyle are essential to successful waste management.

Last year, reports said Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairperson Francis Tolentino cited need for incinerating Metro Manila's garbage to help address flooding in this megalopolis.

Reports also said Isabela First District Rep. Rodolfo Albano III saw nothing wrong with Tolentino's stand as the solon pointed out a 2002 Supreme Court ruling explained RA 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) “does not absolutely prohibit incineration as a mode of waste disposal (since) only those burning processes which emit poisonous and toxicfumes are banned.”

Albano reportedly said the ruling "recognizes that the garbage problem is a matter of public concern and for as long as government adapts ways that will address it–such as use of ‘smokeless’ incinerators as advocated by Tolentino – then so be it.”

Green groups already urged Tolentino not to consider incineration, however, noting this option violates the law and is a threat to health and the environment.

“Waste incineration is a way of cutting corners and taking an easy, not to mention highly toxic and expensive, way out of our waste problems,” said EcoWaste Coalition, citing a counter statement of zero waste and chemical safety advocates from this green group, MotherEarth Foundation and Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

Dr. Emmanuel said studies show incineration emits toxic pollutants like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, acid gas as well as trace metals like lead, cadmium and mercury.

"Medical waste incineration is a major global source of dioxins which remain in the environment for a very long time," he also said, referring to the health-threatening chemical compound which experts already classified as among the most toxic.

Studies further show such emissions from incineration raise people's risk for cancer, heart diseases, congenital defects as well as problems in the immune and reproductive systems, he noted.

Experts likewise warned incineration is among human activities that help drive climate change as carbon dioxide (CO2) is also emitted during this process.

CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulate and trap heat in the atmosphere, raising global temperature so climate change results, they said.

They noted onslaught of weather extremes as well as sea level and temperature rise are climate change's impacts on the Philippines.

Data Dr. Emmanuel presented during the forum show a 40-inch. sea level rise is projected to inundate over 1,000 hectares of coastal area along Manila Bay.

"That's expected to affect about 2.5 million people," he noted.

In October 2013, Caloocan City Second District Rep. Edgar Erice filed HB 3161 that allows use of incinerators in burning municipal, bio-medical and hazardous wastes and which amends for the purpose Sec. 20 of RA 8749.

The bill has been referred to the House ecology committee where it remains pending.

Zero Waste Recycling of the Philippines Foundation Inc. (ZWRMPFI) is opposing HB 3161, noting incineration is actually a waste of resources, poses risks to health and the environment as well as generates more CO2.

"The solution to the waste resource management problem isaggressive recycling through zero waste techniques that are low-cost of local technology, safe for humans and terrestrial and aquatic resources, easy for people to adapt and continuously pursue at the household or at source level, closer to solving the said dilemma, in an ecological and economical way," ZWRMPFI said in the position paperthis group submitted to House ecology committee chairperson Manila Fifth District Rep. Ramon Bagatsing.

As member of a WHO advisory group developing the interim guidelines for managing Ebola virus-contaminated waste, Dr. Emmanuel spent time in West Africa's Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone late last year to install technologies and conduct training in infection control and waste management there.

The initial solution for managing waste in those Ebola hotspots was incineration, he said.

"Incineration proved to be another disaster, however," he said.

He observed emission of health-threatening substances from incineration, lack of air pollution control measures and other factors only exacerbated conditions in the Ebola-stricken countries.

Dr. Emmanuel noted autoclaves proved to be safe and effective alternatives for Ebola waste management there.

"Ebola musn't be an excuse for returning to incineration," he said.

WHO said the outbreak in West Africa is the "largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976."

"There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined," WHO said.

Formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.

Symptoms of Ebola include sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, noted WHO.

In some cases, WHO said there's also internal and external bleeding.

Ebola virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, said WHO.

The virus spreads across the human population throughhuman-to-human transmission, WHO added. (PNA)

CTB/CJT/EDS

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