Archive for the ‘toxic chemicals’ Category

Campaign against firecrackers and fireworks

December 31, 2008

A counter-move against the merry tradition of bidding a noisy ending of the year, young students in Manila staged rallies against firecrackers. In a gathering spearheaded by EcoWaste foundation, environment-conscious students in Malate, brought attention to the dangers and polluting effects of firecrackers during the holiday.

In Negros Occidental and Cadiz City, an estimated P300,000 and P100,000 worth of illegal pyrotechnic devices respectively were confiscated by authorities. Similar operations where conducted in various cities all over the country as the new year draws near.

Although the Department of Health (DOH) has made headway in discouraging the use of firecrackers with the use of explicit anti-firecracker ads, hospitals in the country are in “Code White Alert” in anticipation for more people who might need medical attention. More than a hundred injuries have been reported including at least three directly inflicted by gunfire.

The argument against the firecrackers and indiscriminate gunfire at this time is easy to understand, but annually, Filipinos needed to be reminded of the risks and perils. Students and concerned Filipinos standing against firecrackers are helpful in getting this message across. (Photo Credit: Malaya/ Philip Duquiatan) =0=

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Endosulfan safely retrieved: where are the other toxic chemicals?

October 6, 2008

There is a sigh of relief from the successful recovery of the toxic chemical cargo endosulfan from the ill-fated ship Princess of the Stars which sank at the height of Typhoon Frank 3 months ago in Romblon, Philippines. As the 402 barrels of endosulfan (about 10,000 kg) are sent to Manila, the government is bent to return the shipment to Israel.

The focus now must be the unfinished job of finding the other toxic chemicals and the retrieval of bodies which were trapped in the ship. About 10,000 liters of bunker fuel and at least four hazardous chemicals namely carbofuran, propineb, metamidophos and niclosamide haven’t been fully accounted for. In addition, it is unclear what happened to the 16 metric tons of toluene diisocyanate (TDI) in 80 drums that are missing from another ship: the MV Ocean Papa which sank in Mararison Island, Culasi.

So long as these hazardous chemicals haven’t accounted for, the danger of contamination is still there. Continued search for the missing toxic cargoes and monitoring of the surrounding environment are still priorities. The accountability of those responsible, particularly Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ship, must be pursued.(Photo Credit: AP/Bullit Marquez)=0=

The need for witnesses in the Princess of the Stars toxic chemical recovery

September 25, 2008

Divers from Titan Salvage and Harbor Star started their salvage work by taking a survey near around “ground zero,” but media were kept away from the operations center.” GMANewsTV (09/25/08, Dedace, S.)

Why will government officials disallow the media to observe the conduct of the endosulfan recovery operations in the sunken ship Princess of the Stars? With toxic chemicals on board, the ship owned by Sulpicio Lines sank at the height of Typhoon Frank on June 21, 2008, killing about 800 passengers.

For the sake of truth, it’s important that the salvage operation be witnessed. The relatives of those who perished need to know how the bodies trapped in the ship are being handled. Residents in the area close to the sunken ship are anxious to know where their safety stands as sluggish recovery goes on. There must be no secrecy in the recovery operation.

The longer it takes to recover the toxic chemicals, the higher the chance the containers will leak and cause contamination. With real fear of an environmental disaster, the public is left guessing for three months now what’s going on with the chemicals left out to leach in the salty sea.


A haphazard handling of endosulfan can contaminate the area. The hazardous chemical can be carried far by water current and is capable of sparking an environmental catastrophe which can cause havoc in humans and wildlife. If this happens, without the media watching, few people can be warned. And less people will know the truth.

The plan of the local government of Romblon to evacuate residents in case of a spill is laudable, but the people must be assured that the handling of hazardous material is done correctly. To allay public fear, the government needs periodic advisories on the progress of the salvage operation. But these aren’t done as expected.

Perhaps, to discourage the media from being in the site, the concern about being exposed to toxic chemicals isn’t justified. Reporters usually come to sites of danger as part of their jobs, just like those workers who signed up to work in the submerged ship. (Photo Credits: Somophils; Zinnie)=0=

The strange illnesses which followed 911

September 11, 2008

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the day our world was broken. It lives forever in our hearts and our history, a tragedy that unites us in a common memory and a common story.”
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg (New York City, September 11, 2008)

As I listened to the names of those who perished in New York when Al Qaeda rammed planes into the Twin Towers, I felt as though I was back again to relive the horror. The tolling of the bells was a grim reminder. Almost 4,000 died including more than 300 brave firefighters who prematurely left their families, their last moments spent to saving lives and answering the call of duty

On September 11, 2001, I was at home in a high-rise building in Manhattan just a little north of Chinatown when the planes struck at the World Trade Center (WTC.) The mayhem that ensued could only be hinted by the incessant blare of sirens which went on for days in the neighborhood. On my window sill was an eerie veil of ash that rained from the sky and a pungent smell of flesh and incomplete combustion wafted in the air. The street outside was powdery as though a different kind of snow fell, off winter season.


The immeasurable damage of 911 still persists and is unraveling. As the world remembers, countless more live with the adverse effects of the tragedy. Thousands of those exposed to the toxic fumes, pulverized concrete, heavy metals and carcinogenic agents have reported health problems—from psychological stress, traumatic injuries, asthma to irreversible fibrosing damage on the lungs.

Potentially WTC-Associated Conditions
Triad Described by Clinicians:
-Chronic Rhinitis and Rhinosinusitis
-Asthma; Reactive Airways Dysfunction (RADS)
-Gartroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD);
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease (LRPD)
Source: New York City Dep’t of Health & Hygiene Vol 21 (6):41-54

In the gray zones farther from ground zero there were people with preexisting medical conditions whose disease overlapped with new health problems which might be linked with the disaster’s aftermath. For majority of them however, no one could be 100% sure. As a physician, I could only imagine how hard it would be to ascribe these illnesses specifically to 911.


Though exposure to the fumes and dust of 911 wasn’t strikingly obvious to many, there’s no way to exactly quantify. My lung problem joins the umbrella of diseases seen in those exposed to the dangerous dust and fumes. I could only guess what I got, bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia (BOOP,) had something to do with the pollution from the collapsed buildings. In a background of an immune blood disorder I suffered before 911 however, it would be hard to make an air-tight connection. But I knew this kind of pulmonary problem had been attributed to the respiratory illnesses that caused the debility and deaths of many rescue workers.

This uncertainty is shared by countless innocent victims of terror. Thousands of us harbor sicknesses that are confounding and debilitating, causing breathing difficulties, unspeakable pain, and mental anguish. The medical service delivery system has been taxed as health workers try to help with the rising costs of treatment. It has caused many insurance benefits to be denied. Lawsuits have to be fought in courts to settle liability claims.

Time, treasure, and money have been wasted because a few misguided rogues with warped ideologies and fanatical religious beliefs unleashed their anger on human beings who could well be their own sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends.(Photo Credits: bear_inter) =0=
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Dark Knight’s Blockbuster Bonanza, Zimbabwe’s $100 Billion Dollar Note, & GMA’s Dismal Popularity Rating

July 21, 2008

$155.34 million
-Hollywood’s popular record-breaking block-buster entertainment “The Dark Knight” is Christopher Nolan’s dark sequel to “Batman Begins” which drew excited fans and profits in tinseltown on the first week of showing. Recently deceased actor Heath Ledger acts as the Joker. There are those who think the movie is too violent and may not be appropriate for kids below 12.

$100 billion note
-To cope with a hyperinflation of 2.2 million percent, Zimbabwe’s Central Bank issued this latest huge bank note in a series of high money denominations, to deal with cash and food shortages leaving 80% of its people below the poverty line.

(-) 38%
-Social Weather Station (SWS) revealed the dismal approval rating of Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo on July 18, 2008, making her the most unpopular Philippine president since 1986. It’s lower than her (-) 33% approval rating in May 2005, prompting Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, head of CBCP to advise the president to take her unpopularity “seriously.”

4,124
-The number of US military troops who died in the Iraq War since it started 5 years ago, according to a recent count by the Associated Press on July 20, 2008.

0
-No one has lost money in FDIC-insured savings of up to $100,000 in the last 75 years, said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who cautions anxious Americans of harder times ahead, but assures the soundness of the US banking system.

30 days
-The expected time to retrieve the estimated 200,000 liters of industrial fuel and 10 metric-ton toxic endosulfan trapped in the sunken Princess of the Stars (threatening to pollute the Sibuyan Sea.) The projected cost of retrieval is $7.5 million (P318 million.)

87 drums
-Number of missing drums of toxic toluene diisocyanate (apart from the hazardous 10 metric tons of endosulfan and ship fuel in the Princess of the Sea) that need retrieval from another ship, M/V Ocean Papa, also grounded by Typhoon Frank.

2,167
-Central Luzon’s number of dengue fever cases, a rise of 273% from last year’s number with two reported deaths as of July 21, 2008.

$1.42 billion
-Total remittance of OFW’s in May 2008, a 15.5% increase from last year’s. This is accompanied by the exodus of 533,945 Filipinos, a 39.5% rise in the first five months of 2008 who seek jobs abroad.

$145.59 million
-The amount of foreign investments withdrawn from the Philippines in June, 2008—a reversal to last year’s inflow investments totaling $871.41 million which entered the country. A total of $417 million from foreign investors left the country since Jan. 2008. =0=

Decaying bodies at sea, an inflation rate of 11.4%, and a cascade of woes for Filipinos

July 4, 2008

Barely three weeks after the negligent grounding of the Sulpicio Lines ferry at the height of typhoon Frank, a cascade of adverse effects has surfaced adding more injury and pain to untold number of people, near and far from Romblon, the site of the tragedy.

As evidence of negligence surface, decaying bodies float in the sea, making retrieval difficult. As days go by, the burden to identify these bodies has overtaxed the forensic experts, raising anew the lack of preparedness of the nation to tackle a catastrophe of this magnitude.

Relatives of those who died have lost sleep grieving their lost loved ones. They’re confused about their legal rights—what options they have to pursue justice for those who perished. Rather than fight the gargantuan obstacles posed by the sluggish legal system, can they be appeased by measly settlements by the owners of the ferry company? They mull on whether the P200,000 being offered by Sulpicio Lines to each victim is the right compensation for each human life.

A hideous find of toxic insecticide in the sunken ferry has posed problems on how to contain a potential contamination that could sicken people in the area and destroy the livelihood of countless fishermen dependent on the resources of the sea. Time is of the essence. It isn’t easy to remove the 10-ton illegal cargo that’s sitting dangerously in the hull of the Princess of the Stars. Endosulfan (thiodan) is highly dangerous and a significant leakage of the chemical poses destructive possibilities that could last for years. It poses health risks for those working to recover anything from the ill-fated ferry.

Hundreds of miles away, like in poor Bicol villages of Balatan and Pasacao in Camarines Sur, innocent people bear the brunt of the disaster. In Naga City, a sharp drop of fish consumption on fear of contamination has driven down price of fish to 80% below its normal value while the cost of rice rose to 43%.

Before the news of dead bodies floating in Ragay Gulf broke, fish sales were okay. Of the 100 customers who buy here during normal times, you could only have one today who would dare to buy our products,” Corazon Diaz, vendor of Naga City said, dramatizing the immediate impact of dead bodies in the seas to their business even as the Department of Health has officially announced that there was no immediate danger on people’s health. Bicol Mail. (O7/05/08, Escandor, J. Jr.)

Parallel to the damage wrought by storm, the effects of fuel price increases continue to batter the nation. The rainy season has set in and more typhoons and landslides are expected by the weather watcher PAGASA. Mayon volcano in Albay has shown signs of activity which augurs a possible eruption. The dollar exchange which hovers at P45.70 per dollar has weakened, prompting central bank to prop up the currency from further devaluation. In June, the inflation rate has risen to 11.4%, pegging a record high in 14 years.

“The price of rice soared by 43 percent because of growing demand and increased costs of inputs. This means that the rice a consumer bought for P100 in June last year may be had for P143 last month.

Prices of food products included in the Filipino consumer basket rose by 17.4 percent. This means food products that had cost P100 in June last year, cost P117.4 last month.” Inquirer (07.05.08, Remo, M.)

The hideous chain of events is nothing that anyone could have imagined, but it has happened— wrecking havoc to the entire nation. To what extent the public will cope with these calamities (natural or man-made, local or global) is something for now and the future. Certainly, there’s enough blame to spread around, but in this situation, it’s the poor, the young, and elderly who suffer the most. =0=

Toxic Cargo

June 28, 2008

After Sulpicio Lines blamed God for the sinking of the passenger ship “Princess for the Stars,” an illegal cargo of 10 metric tons of endosulfan, a highly hazardous neurotoxic organochlorine insecticide was found in the shipwreck, prompting divers to stop their mission of retrieving bodies from the ship’s hull.

According to Philstar (06/28/08, Berondo, W. et. Al)

They (Sulpicio Lines) only told Del Monte on Wednesday, in writing, that the cargo had been switched to the passenger ship. That was five days after the ferry sank. This type of chemical is not allowed on board passenger ships. ” Norlito Vicana, the director of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority told ABS-CBN.

Del Monte said Sulpicio Lines loaded the endosulfan on the Princess of the Stars instead of the Princess of the Paradise “ without the knowledge and consent of Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI.)”

“ Upon learning that our cargo was loaded on the ill-fated Princess of the Stars, we immediately informed the FPA, ” a DMPI statement read.

With a clamor to ban the dangerous chemical worldwide, the use of endosulfan (thiodan) is prohibited in the European Union (EU) and other countries; its use in the Philippines is restricted. The United States still uses the pesticide which was first registered in 1954 for agricultural use, mainly to control insects and pests on fruits and vegetables.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) did not have knowledge of the toxic cargo placed inside a container van until it learned from DMPI, the insecticide consignee. Although no evidence of leakage has been detected, some divers had their blood checked for exposure in a laboratory in Singapore.

When ingested, inhaled or absorbed in the skin in significant amounts, acute endosulfan poisoning causes hyperactivity, nausea, dizziness, headache, tremors, seizures or even death. Chronic exposure can affect endocrine function as reproductive maturation delay and it can bring damage to the kidneys, testes and the liver. There is no antidote for endosulfan poisoning, and treatment is basically supportive (i.e. anticonvulsants for seizures.)=0=