Environmental and labor groups press for impartial probe of deadly toxic incident in Batangas, push for chemical safety in workplaces

Quezon City. Groups working on environmental health
and labor concerns called for an impartial investigation of a toxic
incident in Bauan, Batangas last Tuesday that killed three workers and
forced at least 2,000 residents to flee for safety.

The Alliance of Progressive Labor and the EcoWaste Coalition, in a
joint statement, sought for a just probe and prosecution of those
responsible for the chemical tragedy as they urged the various
government agencies, particularly the Environment, Labor and Health,
to strengthen existing policies and programs on occupational safety
and health to prevent exposure, injury and death from toxic and
hazardous substances.

“Many of our workers are not aware of the risks and dangers of toxic
and hazardous chemicals in their work environment. Thus the need for
expanded programs that will promote chemical safety education among
workers, provide adequate compensation and rehabilitation in case of
work-related exposure to chemicals, and encourage industry shift to
clean production,” said Josua Mata of the Alliance of Progressive
Labor, adding that the company behind the Bauan incident should be
investigated and held accountable.

“To safeguard labor and community health, we urge industries and
businesses using chemicals that are capable of causing harm to people
and the environment to duly notify their workers and adjoining
communities and to implement a chemical accident prevention program,
including toxics use reduction and substitution, and an emergency
response plan in case anything go wrong,” said Manny Calonzo of the
EcoWaste Coalition.

The switch to clean production and the implementation of various
measures to minimize, if not eliminate, the use of highly hazardous
substances to prevent chemical accidents and exposures is in line with
the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM),
the APL and the EcoWaste Coalition stated.

SAICM, which the Philippines and over a 100 countries adopted in 2006,
provides an overall strategy and plan of action to strengthen
chemicals’ policies and prevent harm to public health and the
environment due to exposure to chemicals and other toxic substances.

The groups also observed that the Bauan toxic incident should prompt a
review of the government’s “Medium-Term National Occupational Safety
and Health Plan 2005-2010” and lead to proactive interventions
targeting vulnerable workers and communities, including those employed
in the informal economy who have least access to safety information.

The groups further noted the need to strengthen the Zero Accident
Program of the Occupational Safety and Health Center under the
Department of Labor and Employment and expand its implementation to
all geographical regions and economic sectors, but with particular
emphasis on workers that are most vulnerable to chemical exposure and
harm such as the agricultural, industrial, mining, construction and
waste workers.

On Tuesday, workers Junnel Almohera, Charmeil Allego and a certain
“Waray” were killed after being exposed to toxic fumes from a barge
undergoing repairs in Barangay Santa Maria, Bauan. Three other
workers, namely Roger de la Peña, Guilberto Liverca, and Jayson
Rodolfo, also got poisoned, but luckily survived.

The toxic fumes forced Bauan authorities to declare a state of
emergency in the municipality that saw at least 2,000 residents of
Barangays Santa Maria, San Miguel, San Pedro and Baguilawa being
evacuated to safety.

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