Philippines Government Pressed For Industrial Chemical Disclosure System

MANILA, Philippines

Environmental activists, spearheaded by international advocacy group Greenpeace, on September 13 asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to produce a contamination disclosure system for industrial companies to warn the public about chemicals discharged into waterways.

"Every day, hundreds of thousands of chemicals are being released into the environment, the majority of these through pipes that discharge wastewater into rivers and lakes. Only a fraction of these chemicals has been tested to ascertain the risks they pose to the environment and human health," Beau Baconguis, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told the Philippine Star.

As part of the September "right-to-know" Water Patrol Expedition along Marikina River in eastern Metro Manila, activists will inspect and log sources of toxic pollution from the Marikina all the way to Laguna Lake.

"The government has no exact data of what these chemicals are, and how much ends up in our waterways. Communities along our rivers and lakes directly bear the brunt of these toxic discharges, which can ultimately contaminate our source of drinking water," Baconguis said.

The activists advised that the government draw up a list of dangerous chemicals for urgent eradication and that it be more open about pollution.

“The current administration’s promise of transparency and accountability should go beyond government contracts and politics to matters that actually concern public health and the environment,” Baconguis said.

At the campaign’s launch, 30 water patrol campaigners in 12 boats scrutinized and documented possible water contamination hotspots along the Marikina’s Calumpang area.

The Philippines has a poor waterway management record, hosting some of the world’s dirtiest rivers.

A recent Philippines documentary examined the state of three waterways and efforts by government and civil society to revive them. The rivers, the Parañaque, Marilao and Pasig, are three of the country’s dirtiest.

The documentary’s findings were discouraging.

For instance, the once-clear waters of the Pasig have turned the color of mud, in the wake of Metro Manila’s population explosion over the past decades.

According to Dr. Eugenia Lagmay of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, the Pasig cannot be revived without first cleaning the over 40 polluted canals that run into it. That will require resources and political will from the government, along with cooperation of waterside residents.

The picture for the Marilao is no better. Fish stocks in the Marilao have been decimated, the documentary found. Supply has dropped by over 40 percent over the past decade, mostly because of local factory contamination.

Last May, Greenpeace pronounced that a campaign to rehabilitate the Marilao had failed. In 2007, the Marilao River system was listed by the non-profit think tank the Blacksmith Institute as one of the world’s 30 dirtiest rivers.