1 December 2021. The EcoWaste Coalition highlighted the need to impose a nationwide ban on firecrackers as an essential measure to keep Filipinos safe from injuries and pollutants, as well as to discourage mass gatherings amid the looming threat of Omicron COVID-19 variant.
In support of the government-led “Ligtas Christmas sa Healthy Pilipinas” campaign, the toxics watchdog group called on local authorities to pass and/or enforce ordinances prohibiting firecrackers as the Christmas and New Year festivities near.
“Banning the production, importation, distribution, sale and use of firecrackers will certainly reduce the number of firecracker-related injuries, as well as reduce the environmental pollution associated with the New Year revelry,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition, who added that “the enforcement of such a measure will also be crucial in light of growing fears and uncertainties over the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.”
“Regardless of the COVID-19 alert level assignments, we appeal to our communities to aim for drastically reduced injuries, wastes and emissions due to the blasting of firecrackers and fireworks during the holidays,” he further said.
The EcoWaste Coalition cited information from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to illustrate the health and environmental benefits of banning firecrackers.
According to the DOH’s injury registry data from sentinel hospitals, 122 firecracker-related injuries and one stray bullet injury were recorded from December 21, 2020 to January 6, 2021. This is 290 cases (or 70 percent) lower compared to 2019 figures and 469 cases (or 79 percent) lower than the five-year average (2015-2019) as per the DOH.
As for air pollution levels, the DENR recorded a substantial drop in Particulate Matter (PM 10) in Metro Manila from an average concentration of 213 micrograms per normal cubic meter (ug/Ncm) on January 1, 2020 to 87 ug/Ncm on January 1, 2021 – a 59 percent reduction – due to the firecracker ban in the metropolis.
While community fireworks display with LGU permit is allowed under Executive Order 28, series of 2017, which regulates and controls the use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices, the EcoWaste Coalition called on the public and private sectors to use allocated funds for alternative activities.
“Instead of burning money for a few minutes of a fireworks display, we urge both the public and private sectors to use available funds for activities that will truly add holiday cheer such as food packs to families most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” suggested Dizon.
As it communicated last year to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the EcoWaste Coalition cited the following as reasons to justify a national ban on firecrackers and fireworks amid the pandemic:
1. Lighting firecrackers and fireworks emits loads of toxic gases and pollutants to the environment causing poor air quality in a short period of time, which can weaken the immune system’s function and put a person at a higher risk of respiratory infections, including COVID-19.
2. Exposure to toxic pollutants emitted from the bursting of firecrackers and fireworks is dangerous to everyone, especially to the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, including those afflicted with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart problems, diabetes and other illnesses, as they tend to develop more severe symptoms of COVID-19.
3. Even minor injuries resulting from firecracker and firework accidents will require emergency care and treatment at a hospital to prevent tetanus infection, further straining an already overburdened healthcare system.
4. Celebrating the New Year with firecrackers and fireworks encourages mass gathering in the neighborhood or in a community or park hosting a fireworks display, which will make physical distancing, a precautionary health measure against COVID-19, difficult to observe.
To protect public health from injuries and environmental pollutants, the EcoWaste Coalition has been cooperating with the government since 2006 in promoting a safer welcome to the New Year sans firecrackers and fireworks through its “Iwas Paputoxic” campaign, which complements the DOH-led “Iwas Paputok” program.