Severe health risks of coal pollution and the Tondo women who are fighting it

The women of Tondo have banded together to fight against the devastating effects of coal pollution on their families. Read on to learn how their families have suffered.

The Women of Happyland, Tondo are now warriors for the Earth as they seek to protect their families from coal-related health issues.

According to the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR), some 8,000 to 12,000 metric tons of coal waste have been dumped by Rock Energy Corporation in Happyland Tondo, Manila since 2014.

Aside from a foul odor, the coal stockpile has caused various respiratory and skin diseases among the residents.

“Women and children bear the greatest brunt of the effects of the coal stockpile. Residents reported that three children have already died due to prolonged exposure to coal dust,” reads a press release by CWR.

Read: Is it safe to use katol around babies?

Children and adults alike have suffered skin allergies or acquired respiratory illnesses.

Annalyn Marupal, for instance, developed skin allergies when she moved into the area just three months ago. Recently, her husband coughed out black phlegm. Her one month-old grandchild also had to be transferred to another municipality because the infant could not take in the air in the area.

And while the Manila government has assured the community that the coal stockpile will be removed from the area, residents fear this will remain an unfulfilled campaign promise, prompting the women to join forces with academe, students, and institutions to bring awareness to their plight.

"Siyempre eleksyon, kailangan nila ang boto namin pero dalawang buwan na ang nakalipas nang nagsabi silang aalisin ang tambak ng karbon sa aming lugar pero hanggang ngayon, patuloy pa ring nag-ooperate (It is election season and they need our votes, but it has been two months since they said they would remove the pile of carbon in our area. Up to now, operations are still ongoing)," said a worried mother.

While the campaign has gained several victories, including a closure order of the facility, the piles of coal wastes remain in the area.

Sa bawat minuto, oras, araw na lumilipas na hindi naaalis ang karbon, lalong lumalala ang mahirap na naming kalagayan (with each minute, hour, and day that passes that the carbon is not removed, our already poor condition gets worse),” shared one of the residents.

But aside from the health hazards, the coal waste is an added burden to homemakers as it makes housekeeping more difficult.

Kakapunas ko lang ng sahig, itim na agad tapos yung sinampay ko nangingitim (Right after wiping the floor, it becomes black again. Even laundry hanging out to dry turns black),” shared one of the residents.

Meal times have also become difficult as it is impossible to consume clean food or drink clean water.

Mahirap na nga makakuha ng pangkain, kapag andyan na at kakain na, makikita mo, may maiitim. Hindi mo na rin makakain (Getting food is difficult as it is, and when the food is finally there, we can’t eat it because it has black particles in it),” shared one of the residents.

Next: Health issues due to coal pollution

Health issues due to coal pollution

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and many more substances that are hazardous to human health.

The following is a list of health hazards enumerated by the organization:

  • Respiratory Effects including asthma, lung disease and cancer, and adverse effects on normal lung development in children.
  • Cardiovascular Effects such as arterial occlusion (artery blockages that lead to heart attacks) and infarct formation (tissue death from oxygen deprivation, which leads to permanent heart damage), cardiac arrhythmias and even congestive heart failure.
  • Nervous System Effects as studies show a correlation between coal-related air pollutants and stroke. It also causes loss of intellectual capacity, primarily because of mercury.
  • Global Warming:  Carbon dioxide discharged into the atmosphere from burning coal is a major contributor to global warming and its adverse effects on health worldwide, causing: heat stroke, malaria, declining food production and water supply, while increasing social conflict and starvation.

"Given the disease burden associated with coal as well as its contribution to global warming, it is essential that we establish energy policies based on a fundamental commitment to human health and the health of generations to come," said Peter Wilk, MD, the Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Next: The coal industry in the Philippines and renewable energy

The coal industry in the Philippines

According to Green Peace, coal provides 29.9% of global primary energy needs and generates 41% of the world's electricity. It is also used in the production of 70% of the world’s steel.

There are currently 13 plants that burn coal for electricity in the Philippines. While the country is not a major producer of coal, this is enough to emit millions of tons of pollution every year; release toxic substances like mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and tiny sulfate and nitrate particles that inevitably enter the lungs of people.

Today, also according to Green Peace, more than 34% of the Philippine’s power generation comes from coal.

Plans to open an additional 45 new power plants in the Philippines are in the pipeline.

“Greenpeace estimates that coal has disadvantaged the Philippines in terms of environmental and health impacts, damages to agriculture and marine life and more.”

Renewable energy

“Renewable energy is a real solution,” states a report by Green Peace.

According to Green Peace, renewable energy provided more than 26% of the country’s electricity generation in 2015 .

Worldwide, renewable energy power is becoming more common, producing around a fifth of the world’s electricity.

“Today, we are faced with a critical choice: Will we stay mired in the dirty energy sources of the past, or will we reach for a sustainable, green future? Will the Philippines build 45 new power plants or consolidate its position as a renewable energy leader in Asia? The choice is ours. Make it right,” says a report by Green Peace.

Piglas Pilipinas, a local movement that is in line with the global call to “Break Free from Fossil Fuels 2016”, was launched just this April to put pressure on the government to completely eliminate coal power.

“It is time to break free from fossil fuels and hold the big polluters and the government to account to ensure a safer future for Filipinos. This is our challenge to the next President, to heed the call of the people and make the Philippines coal-free,” said Anna Abad, Climate Justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

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