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Monday, October 8, 2012

TOO BAD the DENR’s deal with Bacolod’s Mayor Evelio Leonardia and other cities to formalize their participation in the Integrated Persistent Organic Pollutants Project (IPOPP) is limited to cities.

Tutod, the (mal) practice of burning of garbage in one’s backyard that DENR wants to minimize toxic emissions. The agreement aims to reduce dioxins and furans pollutants in their city residents’ backyards and in their cities’ dumps.

“Dioxins and furans are two of what we call the ‘dirty dozen’ chemicals whose worldwide use and production are strictly covered by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants signed in 2001 because of their long-term serious impact on the environment and public health,” said DENR Secretary Ramón Paje.


POPs are organic pollutants that persist in nature. They include various substances, which are mainly industrial chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated bi-phenyls found in plastics) and products of burning. These remain in the environment for very, very long times, are usually quite toxic and accumulate in the food chain and are blamed for the spread of breast cancer and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Dioxins are dangerous poisons with the potential to produce a wide range of adverse effects in humans. They interfere with the central nervous system, the immune system, and the reproductive system, with the potential of preventing normal growth and development of the young.

Under the DENR-LGU agreement, the city government signatories will stop the practice of burning garbage in dumps, rehabilitate them and resort to using landfills. They will also prevent the practice of open burning in backyards and other public places.

I hope the Bacolod City Hall puts up warning posters on the dangers of backyard burning, sans the picture of politicians and candidates. Health warnings are one thing, epals are another. (Epal is derisive slang for pre-campaign posters of candidates, usually using tax payers’ money.)

Well, that IPOPP should cover rural areas such as the sugarcane haciendas in Negros Occidental. Although forbidden by the Clean Air Act, we can expect the business as usual sugarcane burning now that the milling season is open.

Here are excerpts from the Sugar Cane Burning and POPs article published in Sugarcane, the Sugar Industry Research Institute newsletter of the Jamaican Sugar Industry Authority. The article’s author, Elaine Manning, could just as well be talking of Negros Occidental.

In Jamaica, the burning of garbage, hospital waste and sugarcane fields are considered the three major sources of dioxins and furans.

Ms. Manning writes that “there is much more to cane burning than meets the eye. Burning produces substances called POPs such as certain ‘dioxins’ and ‘furans,’ which have much more severe consequences in the environment.”

The sugarcane plant does not naturally produce dioxin. However when the sugarcane or other plant containing cellulose is burned, furans are produced. These chemical compounds will combine with chlorine atoms (derived from the reaction of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, with ozone) which are present in the atmosphere, to form dioxins.

We can thus expect that even the most health-conscious consumers of organic foods can end up with cancer, the collateral damage of all these biomass burning in Negrense cities and countryside.

What are the alternatives to sugarcane stalks burning (or panutod)? A Negrense student showed one option: turn farm waste into eco-friendly charcoal and earn money for the producers.

Ydzan Franz Dongon of Victorias invented a manually operated “extruder” machine that converted dried sugarcane stalks into charcoal briquettes that won him first place in the Physical Sciences Cluster–Individual Category during the recent 15th Regional Science and Technology Fair in Iloilo.

Please email comments to bqsanc@yahoo.com

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 08, 2012.


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