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Garbage burning and the Wuhan virus
By Elson T. Elizaga, February 1, 2020. Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily. Updated March 14, 2023.

Wash your hands, wear masks, drink lots of water. Eat fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, take vitamin C and have sufficient amount of sleep. Doing these will boost your immune system.

coronavirusThese are familiar pieces of advice, some coming from the Department of Health (DOH), others from my mother. They are often lumped in one slogan: Have a healthy lifestyle. The reference of this idea is the announcement of the World Health Organization (WHO) Spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, who said in January 28, 2020: "The bulk of the people who succumb to this virus is still people with underlying conditions, or the elderly. People with weaker health systems."

But Lindmeier and DOH officials forgot to mention the importance of a clean environment. And one of the human activities that makes us sick and vulnerable to infection is an apparent trivial habit: garbage burning.

Burning of garbage in PNR Subdivision (aka Johndorf Subdivision) in Barra, Opol
Burning of garbage at the plaza of PNR Subdivision (aka Johndorf Subdivision) in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.
Burning of garbage in PNR Subdivision (aka Johndorf Subdivision) in Barra, Opol, Philippines
Burning of garbage in PNR Subdivision (aka Johndorf Subdivision) in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.

March 18, 2020 Update
If You Live With Air Pollution, You're Already More Vulnerable to Covid-19.(Earther.Gizmondo)

The Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has this statement in their fact sheet called "Dangerous Health Effects of Home Burning of Plastics and Waste" (Document missing as of March 15, 2020, but a copy is available):

"Most people who burn their plastic domestic waste do not realize how harmful this practice is to their health and to the environment. Current research indicates that backyard-burning of waste is far more harmful to our health than previously thought. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver, in the reproductive and development system.

"The burning of polystyrene polymers – such as foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers – releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs.

"At high levels styrene vapor can damage the eyes and mucous membranes. Long term exposure to styrene can affect the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness, and depression.

"Not only these people who are burning the trash are exposed to these pollutants, but also their neighbours, children and families."

Burning of garbage at the corner of Amethyst and Emerald Streets of PNR Subdivision (aka Johndorf Subdivision) in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.

The factsheet also mentions dioxin.

"The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastics containing organochlor- based substances like PVC. When such plastics are burned, harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals are emitted. Dioxins are the most toxic to the human organisms. They are carcinogenic and a hormone disruptor and persistent, and they accumulate in our body-fat and thus mothers give it directly to their babies via the placenta. Dioxins also settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually wind up in our food, accumulate in our bodies and are passed on to our children."

The EPA also states, "Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones."

A huge amount of dioxin was used during the Vietnam War, causing fetal deformities, such as incomplete arms and legs, facial distortion, brain damage, among other ailments.

Garbage burning is illegal in the Philippines under RA 9003. Despite the signing of this law 19 years ago, it is still a common practice. I am afraid many residents in our subdivision in Barra, Opol will die when infected with the Wuhan virus because garbage burning is a daily ritual here. And even without the virus and other virulent microbes, air pollution alone is sufficient to give us health problems, deplete our finances, and put us closer to the caring arms of the undertaker. End

One of many garbage mounds in PNR Subdivision, Barra, Opol, Philippines
Although barangay Barra segregates garbage collection, some residents still throw their garbage anywhere or burn them. Photo shows one of many garbage mounds inside and around the plaza of PNR Subdivision in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, Philippines. The plaza has a basketball court, tennis court, an open field, and a chapel. On one occasion, about 25 adults and children were present in the area while several piles of garbage were burning.
  Garbage near basketball and tennis courts,   Illegal dump outside PNR Subdivision
Illegal dump near school, December 12, 2017. Click the photos to enlarge them.   Garbage mound at the tennis and basketball courts, PNR Subdivision, Barra, Opol, December 18, 2019.   Illegal dump near school,
February 10, 2020.
Behind Riverdale Academy, Barra, Opol, Philippines, March 4, 2020. [The garbage has disappeared as of October 18, 2021.]


Section 48. Prohibited Acts - The following acts are prohibited:

(1) Littering, throwing, dumping of waste matters in public places, such as roads, sidewalks, canals, esteros or parks, and establishment, or causing or permitting the same;

(2) Undertaking activities or operating, collecting or transporting equipment in violation of sanitation operation and other requirements or permits set forth in established pursuant;

(3) The open burning of solid waste;

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