18 January 2017

Minamata@60: Groups Recall Minamata Tragedy, Back PH Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

Civil society groups have reiterated their support for actions that will prevent mercury contamination of the ecosystems and the resulting human exposures to this potent neurotoxin.

At a seminar held today to commemorate the 60th anniversary since the official identification in 1956 of the Minamata disease, a neurological problem linked to the consumption of seafood contaminated with methylmercury, the EcoWaste Coalition and other public interest groups rallied all sectors to back measures aimed at curbing mercury emissions, releases and exposures.

They particularly appealed to the Duterte administration to hasten the country’s ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that seeks to safeguard public health and the environment from the harmful effects of mercury.  The government has yet to ratify the treaty three years after it was signed in 2013.  

“We have come together to learn about the serious health and environmental effects of mercury pollution as experienced by the people of Minamata and the need for vigilance to ensure that the Minamata disease and other forms of mercury poisoning are prevented, controlled or totally obliterated,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Minamata disease is named after Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture where the first outbreak of this disease occurred in the early 1950s.  People living around Minamata Bay were stricken with the disease after eating fish and other seafood that were highly contaminated with methylmercury attributed to the industrial wastewater discharges of a plant owned by Chisso Corporation.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, paralysis,coma and death can occur. A congenital form of mercury poisoning can also affect fetuses in the womb.

Speaking at the seminar, Yoichi Tani, Director of the Collaboration Centre for Minamata Disease Victims and Secretary-General of the Minamata Disease Victim Mutual Aid Society, which co-organized the event with EcoWaste, spoke about the bitter facts of the Minamata tragedy and the victims’ continuing fight for justice.

“More than 400,000 people were living along the coast of the Shiranui (Yatsushiro) Sea in Kyushu in the 1950s when methyl mercury contamination was at its peak. The population of the area where mercury-tainted seafood was sold exceeds two million. In the past few years, more than 60,000 victims have filed claims for relief, complaining of headache, numbness in their extremities, spasms, tremors, and other neurological symptoms,” he said.

“Over 60 years have passed since the Minamata disease was officially identified but major questions still linger about its effects, the mechanism of the disease and the full extent of the disaster.   Minamata disease, the worst pollution disaster in Japanese history, shows no signs of going away,” he added.

Despite a speech problem linked to the Minamata disease,  Hideo Ikoma, 73, gave an emotional account of what he and other sufferers of crippling disabilities due to methylmercury poisoning are going through.  “I ate many crabs and fishes caught from Minamata Bay in 1958, exposing me to mercury and causing my admission to the Kumamoto Fujisakidai Hospital.   I was then in junior high school.  Since then, every day has been a struggle between life and death because of the Minamata disease that I and many other victims have to endure.”

Minamata disease victims like Hideo Ikoma demand recognition and compensation for all victims, the establishment of an adequate health and life support system for the victims and their families, and a comprehensive health study of people in the impacted areas.  Furthermore, the victims want the “Polluter  Pays Principle” to be fully and properly enforced, and the contaminated  sites such as the Hachiman sedimentation pool to be restored.

At the seminar, neurologist and clinical toxicologist Dr. Carissa Paz Dioquino-Maligaso talked about the “Faces of Mercury Neurotoxicity” where she, among other issues, cited incidents that occurred in the Philippines to demonstrate the exhibition of mercury toxicity depending on the form of mercury and the route exposure.  Maligaso heads the  National Poison Management and Control Center at the UP College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital

For example, she mentioned the metal fume fever experienced by some high school students in Paranaque in 2006 due to exposure to elementary mercury;   gingivitis and neurobehavioral changes among miners who are chronically exposed to mercury; cerebral palsy among those exposed to mercury in utero; and renal disease and soft tissue inflammation among those who injected elemental mercury into their veins for various reasons.

Engr. Geri Geronimo Sañez, Chief,  Hazardous Waste Section, Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Environmental Management Bureau, also spoke about the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the ongoing efforts to get the ratified by the present government, including the “Ratification Dossier” that was completed with the assistance of the Swiss Confederation and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

According to the Ratification Dossier, “an annual estimate of 300 tons of mercury is released to the environment in the Philippines.  By implementing restrictions on the importation and use of mercury and mercury-containing products, the Convention will reduce the amount of mercury consumption in the country, and therefore, minimize their subsequent release and adverse effects to the environment.”

“Despite the economic cost to comply with the provisions of the Convention, the long-term benefits of becoming a Party far outweigh the disadvantages,” the Dossier pointed out.

Towards the end of the seminar, the EcoWaste Coalition presented a symbolic banner to Hideo Ikoma and Yoichi Tani that says in English and Japanese: “Justice for Minamata Disease Victims.”

In return, Hideo Ikoma and Yoichi Tani handed out roses to government officials present at the seminar to thank and encourage them to secure the ratification of the treaty before the First Conference of Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury in September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.






15 January 2017

Environmental Health and Justice Groups to Mark 60th Year Since Minamata Disease is Recognized

Takak Isayama, a 12-year old victim of congenital Minamata disease, with her mother.
Hideo Ikoma, Minamata disease victim

Over a 100 people will gather in Quezon City this coming Wednesday for a seminar to commemorate the 60th year since the official identification in 1956 of the Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning.

The seminar is organized by the EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watch group, and the Japan-based Collaboration Centre for Minamata Disease Victims and Minamata Disease Victim Mutual Aid Society.

Visiting Japanese Hideo Ikoma, a Minamata disease victim, and Yoichi Tani, Director of the Collaboration Centre for Minamata Disease Victims and Secretary-General of the Minamata Disease Victim Mutual Aid Society, will speak at the seminar to shed light on the most dreadful mercury poisoning tragedy the world has ever known.

“The EcoWaste Coalition is honored to co-organize the seminar about the  Minamata disease and the victims’ resolute struggles not only against the debilitating illness but also against cold-heartedness, discrimination and injustice,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the group’s Project Protect.

“Learning from the lessons of the Minamata tragedy, we hope, will strengthen the efforts of the Filipino government and people to prevent mercury pollution from damaging the environment and harming human health,” said Yoichi Tani who has been involved in obtaining justice for the Minamata disease victims since 1970.  
Minamata disease is a serious and often deadly illness caused by exposure to methylmercury. It is named after Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture where the first outbreak of this disease occurred in the early 1950′s.

People living around Minamata Bay were stricken with the disease after eating fish and other seafood that were highly contaminated with methylmercury attributed to the mercury-laden wastewater discharges of a plant owned by Chisso Corporation.

Hideo Ikoma, 73, will provide a personal testimony on how he was exposed  to mercury as a teenage boy and his life as a Minamata disease sufferer, while Yoichi Tani, 68, will discuss the impacts of the Minamata tragedy to people’s lives and the continuing quest of the victims and their families for the elusive justice. 

At the seminar, Dr. Carissa Paz Dioquino-Maligaso will discuss the “Health Issues Related to Mercury Exposure in the Philippines.” Maligaso is the Head of the  National Poison Management and Control Center at the UP College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital. 

Engr. Geri Geronimo Sañez, Chief,  Hazardous Waste Section, Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Environmental Management Bureau, will talk about the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. 

Through the seminar, the organizers hope to impart the lessons of the Minamata tragedy, raise local awareness on the need for effective measures to prevent and control mercury pollution, and promote the country’s ratification of Minamata Convention on Mercury.


12 January 2017

EcoWaste Coalition Urges Santo Niño Devotees Nationwide to Cut Fiesta Trash


The environmental watch group EcoWaste Coalition asked Santo Niño devotees to be mindful of their trash as the popular feast of the revered Child Jesus nears.

Simultaneous religious festivities will be held nationwide this weekend in honor of the Child Jesus such as the Buling-Buling and Lakbayaw in Pandacan and Tondo, Manila, Ati-Atihan in Aklan and Sinulog in Cebu, while the festive Dinagyang in Iloilo will take place on January 20-22.

The EcoWaste Coalition appealed for reduced fiesta garbage soon after the mammoth feast of the Black Nazarene last Monday in Manila that saw a twofold increase in the trash collection for Traslacion this year.

As reported by Task Force Manila Cleanup, the city’s waste personnel collected 12 truckloads of garbage or 69.43 tons from January 9 until 9:30 am of January 10, which was twice the volume of trash collected during the same period in 2016.

“Piles of rubbish dotted our streets,” noted Che Borromeo, head of Task Force Manila Cleanup, who also described the garbage collected as mostly plastic water bottles, plastic food containers and utensils, plastic cups, plastic bags, wrappers, carton boxes, newspapers and cigarette butts.

“While our appeal for a trash-less Traslacion was sadly unheeded as shown by widespread littering that again tarnished our people’s epic devotion to the Black Nazarene, we still would like to reiterate our call for a cleaner celebration of the feast of Santo Niño this Sunday,” stated Ochie Tolentino, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“We specifically request concerned barangay councils, neighborhood associations and parish communities with Santo Niño as patron to seek ways of enjoining the cooperation of their constituents for a trash-less fiesta,” she said.

“Santo Niño devotees, particularly the adults, will rise to the occasion and treat the environment with respect – an indispensable value that the young can learn from the old in this era of climate change,” she emphasized.

“Regardless of where your pilgrimage will be, be it in Manila, Cebu, Kalibo, Iloilo or anywhere else, please make it a point not leave any trash behind,” she said.

“Observing simple steps in ecological solid waste management such as by not littering, dumping and burning waste materials will contribute to a better environmental and health conditions for our kids,” she added. 

The EcoWaste Coalition emphasized that Manileños should not be dependent on street sweepers who will do their job uncomplainingly.  

“Keeping our communities spick and span is a shared assignment and not the sole responsibility of street sweepers even though they are paid to do it,” Tolentino pointed out. 

“Please do not litter just because someone else will pick up after you,” she pleaded. 


10 January 2017

EcoWaste Coalition Urges Chinese Candle Stores to Stop Selling Toxic Candles

A non-profit watch group on toxic chemicals, products and wastes went store-hopping in Binondo, Manila last Monday, January 9, to urge Chinese candle retailers to halt the vending of candles with lead-cored wicks.

As part of its ongoing work to prevent children’s exposure to lead, a potent neurotoxin, the EcoWaste Coalition went to 11 stores in the heart of Chinatown to push retailers to stop the importation, distribution and sale of candles with leaded wicks.

The group had earlier notified the country’s health authorities through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the trade of such candles in the local market that would be illegal to sell in other countries such as in Australia, Finland, Denmark and USA, which banned candles with lead-cored wicks in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003, respectively.  Australia in 2002 imposed a permanent ban on candles with wicks that contain 0.06% lead.

“With the health and safety of the consumers in mind, particularly children who are most vulnerable to lead exposure, we request the FDA to release a public health warning against lead-cored wick candles and to stop importers, distributors and retailers from selling such toxic candles,” the group wrote to the FDA in September 2016.  

Responding to the group’s notification, the agency last month issued FDA Advisory 2016-146 entitled “Public Health Advisory on Lead-Cored Wick Candles.” 

“While the advisory did not ban the sale of lead-cored wick candles as we have sought, it clearly warned that the purchase and use of such candles pose an ‘imminent hazard to the public health,’ providing a cue that such products must not be produced and sold at all,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect. 

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that a follow-up directive would outlaw the sale of all candles with wicks and other components containing lead for full compliance by candle makers and traders,” he added.

Armed with copies of the said advisory, the EcoWaste Coalition visited stores selling Chinese praying paraphernalia such as candles and informed store owners about the adverse health effects of candles with lead-cored wicks.   

“As a lead-cored wick candle burns, some of the lead may vaporize and be released into the air.  This airborne lead may be inhaled and may deposit onto floors, furniture and other surfaces in the room where children may be exposed to it,” the FDA 2016-146 warned.

According to the FDA, exposure to lead emissions “can result in increased blood lead levels in unborn babies, babies and young children,” adding that “other toxic effects includes neurological damage, delayed mental and physical development, and attention and learning deficiencies.”

The EcoWaste Coalition in 2014 bought imported candles with lead-cored wicks from Wonderful Trading, a shop selling Chinese prayer articles, and then sent them to a private laboratory for lead content analysis.  As per the laboratory test report, the wicks of approximately 20 candles were found to contain 20.735% lead, which is way above the 0.06% limit in Australia.

“Fortunately, most locally-made candles are non-cored wicks made of braided or twisted cotton and present no risk of lead pollution,” Dizon said.

“As a precaution against lead exposure, we advise consumers to patronize ‘made in the Philippines’ candles with non-cored wicks and avoid those with cored wicks as the metal inside may be lead-based,” he added.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition, “while the ingestion or inhalation of lead-containing paint chips and dust is the most typical source of childhood lead exposure, lead, as a cumulative toxicant, can build up in the body over time and even exposure to low levels of lead can increase the blood lead levels in kids.”

“There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” according to the World Health Organization, which lists lead as one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern.”




09 January 2017

“Trash-lacion” of the Black Nazarene

At the outset, we state that the EcoWaste Coalition acknowledges and respects the beliefs and sacrifices of the devotees of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.  We make the following photos publicly available not to put down the people’s age-old devotion to the Black Nazarene, but to encourage the Church and the society to ponder and embrace much-needed ecological reforms in the manner in which we manifest our faith.  Human activities, especially our faith-inspired feasts, should not add to the garbage crisis and damage our already fragile environment.   These photos were taken in the afternoon of January 9, Feast of the Black Nazarene, at Carlo Palanca and Villalobos Streets and Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo, Manila.