Davao dad hit for dismissing threats posed by incinerators to health, environment

Volunteers recovered 1,159 of assorted wastes, mostly polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, sando bags, soiled diapers, sanitary pads, face masks, plastic spoon and forks, and sachets during the 6th River Clean-up Drive and Brand Audit on Saturday, 17 September 2022 at the Panigan-Tamugan Watershed. Photo courtesy of IDIS

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 September) – A group expressed its disappointment over the statement of Davao City 1st District Councilor Temujin “Tek” Ocampo that potential health hazards of a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility raised by environment advocates were based on “wrong information.”

In a statement sent to MindaNews on Monday, Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) reiterated its opposition to the construction of a WTE project in Davao due to some grave health and environmental problems that an incinerator facility would cause.

Citing a study conducted by Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the Silliman University in Dumaguete City, the group said WTE incinerators release large amounts of highly toxic substances called dioxins and furans into the air.
Emmanuel was former chief technical adviser on global environment projects of the United Nations Development Program.
The group added that inhaling dioxins and furans causes an “increased risk of tumors, cancer, asthma, and other fatal diseases.”

Ocampo, who chairs the committee on environment, said last August 30 that “time is of the essence” in the construction of a WTE because of the increasing volume of wastes generated in the city daily.
He said the city generates 600 to 800 tons of wastes daily, which would be more than enough to fill up to the brim the new sanitary landfill located just beside the existing dumpsite in five years’ time.
Ocampo added that “First World countries” like Japan and Singapore have utilized a similar facility to address solid waste, claiming that WTE does not pose environmental and health hazards to their people.
IDIS said waste incineration would also generate large quantities of carbon and carbon equivalent (CO2e) emissions based on another study conducted by Lee Bell, POPs and Mercury Policy Advisor for the International Pollution Elimination Network.
“Waste incinerators driven by high carbon content plastics and organic waste streams currently release an average of around one ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of waste incinerated,” the group said.
It added that incinerator by-products do not easily dissipate as these chemicals remain in the environment  for 500 years affecting 10 to 40 generations.
It said dioxins and furans in the air could affect not only the residential communities in close proximity “since wind circulations have the characteristics to transport pollutants within a regional distance of around 10 to 100 kilometers.”
The WTE project would cause serious health hazards not only to nearby communities, residences, and schools but also to other areas across the city, it said.
“Furthermore, toxic air pollutants can penetrate and contaminate our water and food resources, such as crops, meat, and fish, through bioaccumulative processes. Councilor Ocampo should have considered these studies before releasing statements that health hazards stated by environmentalists have no basis,” it said.
Citing the “precautionary principle,” the group said, “when human activities may lead to threats of serious and irreversible damage to the environment that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that threat.” 
“It means that the presence of threat or risk of crucial damage to the environment and the fact that it lacks scientific certainty should not be used to avoid taking action to prevent that irreversible damage, especially by government officials who are sworn to protect their people,” it said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)