THE FIRE Prevention Month observance does not only promote fire safety at home, in the workplace and public spaces. Its other goal is the protection of human health and the environment vis-à-vis climate change.
Do you know that burning discards in the open can cause fire and pollution that can endanger people’s health and lives?
Open burning, especially during the dry and hot season, can cause destructive fires in our communities, while permanently destroying resources that can be reused, recycled or composted and generating toxic smoke and ash, according to zero waste advocacy group EcoWaste Coalition. So yes, the public is being urged not to burn household garbage, as well as garden or farm waste, during dry and hot weather.
Open burning can cause particulate matter pollution, as well as dioxin pollution, that can trigger illness, especially among young children, the elderly and people with chemical sensitivities. Pollutants from open burning can also affect unborn fetuses.
Because of its bad effects on health and the environment, national environmental laws and related local ordinances have rightly prohibited the open burning of garbage. Republic Act (RA) 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and RA 8749, or the Clean Air Act, are two major environmental laws banning and penalizing open burning. Section 48 of RA 9003, in particular, lists “the open burning of solid waste” as one of the prohibited acts punishable with a fine of P300 to P1,000 or imprisonment for one to 15 days, or both.
We repeat: burning garbage produces toxic pollutants that can harm public health and the environment. Among these toxic contaminants resulting from open burning activities, especially when materials containing chlorine are burned, are byproduct dioxins and furans that are targeted for global reduction, if not elimination, under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Other open burning pollutants capable of contaminating the air and even our food sources include heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and fine particles or particulate matter. These pollutants are known to cause a variety of health problems such as headaches, eye, throat and skin irritation, impaired respiratory functions, aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and even cancers.
What should be done? All waste generators and regulators must work for the adoption of the best practice in ecological waste management excluding incineration in keeping with the declared policies of RA 9003.