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Environmental watchdog Ban Toxics has formally launched on Wednesday a new study on mercury-free alternatives for batteries, lamps, and medical measuring devices in the Philippines.

The “Mercury-Free Alternatives in the Philippines: Batteries, lamps, and medical measuring devices” was released as part of the celebration of the fourth week of June as the National Poison Prevention Week by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1777 s. 2009 to raise awareness on the preventive aspects of poisoning prevention at home, school, work, and in the general environment.

At a news briefing to highlight the new report, Jam Lorenzo, BAN Toxics’ Policy and Research Associate shared the gains in the phase-out of mercury and mercury-tainted products, particularly batteries, lamps, and medical measuring devices with the emergence of mercury-free alternatives.

Geri-Geronimo Sañez, Chief of the Hazardous Waste Management Section of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), meanwhile presented a short overview of mercury and its health impacts as well as the Philippines’s commitments to the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

In his talk, Sañez highlighted the risks of exposure to mercury, a toxic heavy metal, particularly its adverse effects to human health.  “Exposure to mercury can severely cause health problems, like neurological dysfunction,” he said.

The DENR-EMB, he said, strictly monitors industrial facilities to ensure compliance with the ban on mercury. However, he said when it comes to consumer products, the mandate falls on the authority of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Products Standard (BPS), citing the case of mercury-tainted whitening lotions that have been reported to being sold online.

According to Lorenzo, for mercury measuring devices, citing the 2018 Philippine Mercury Inventory Report, due to the ban on mercury-containing medical measuring devices in health-care facilities, there are no significant imports of thermometers and sphygmomanometers in the country.

Such is also consistent with the findings where trade data have shown that the market has shifted to digital alternatives.

The mercury inventory report utilizes thermometer and sphygmomanometer stocks to calculate annual mercury inputs due to the lack of imports for mercury-containing medical measuring devices.

Meanwhile, battery products imported by the Philippines are mostly mercury-free lithium batteries.

Major battery distributors in the country have also shifted to mercury-free alternatives for silver oxide, zinc-air, and alkaline batteries.

Meanwhile, for lighting products, the report said fluorescent bulbs and other mercury-containing lighting products are still widely available despite the diminishing demand in favor of LED alternatives. “Mercury-free HID lamps, in particular, remain a concern, with the two major suppliers of lighting products in the Philippines only selling mercury-containing HIDs,” the report said.

On a positive note, the report said a majority of household and consumer-level lighting products sold and available are of LED varieties.

Funded by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the study presented trade data obtained from relevant government agencies, as well as the results of monitoring major e-commerce platforms. The results of the study are validated by cross-referencing relevant documents and conducting a validation workshop involving multiple government agencies.

The study also highlighted the Philippines’s progress in managing mercury-added products, with distributors and manufacturers of batteries, lamps, and medical measuring devices successfully shifting most, if not all, of their business to safer alternatives.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury was ratified by the Philippine government on July 8, 2020. It is an international agreement established to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds caused by human activity.

The sale of mercury-added products was made punishable by law through the issuance of the Chemical Control Order for Mercury and Mercury Compounds-DENR Administrative Order 2019-20 (CCO-DAO 2019-20). 

On June 13, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Philippines issued FDA Circular No. 2022-003 which totally banned mercury-added medical devices such as thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and dental amalgams for dental restorative procedures.

 “We commend the efforts of the Philippine government in reducing mercury-added products in the market. The next challenge is fully shifting towards safer alternatives and this can be achieved through the continued cooperation of private industries, civil society organizations, and the government,” Lorenzo said.

For the protection of human health, BAN Toxics encouraged the public to switch to mercury-free lamps, batteries, and medical devices, and dispose of used mercury-containing products and devices safely.

BAN Toxics further promotes sound waste management to minimize mercury pollution from lamps, batteries, and other medical devices.

“We further urge the industries and manufacturers to comply with the existing implementing rules and regulations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regarding the proper storage, transport, management, and disposal of mercury-containing wastes.”