Posted by: Mer Pints | July 6, 2008

Highly toxic chemical cargo of the ill fated M/V Princess of the Stars a ticking time bomb?

Just how bad it is to the environment if the endosulfan Cargo of the M/V Princess of the Stars shall not be recovered the soonest from the vessel sunken at the height of typhoon Frank? Experts believed that “endosulfan is highly toxic in whatever state.” If it is true that the technical grade of the endosulfan in the sunken ferry is 92%, then we are dealing here with a cargo of a toxic and highly concentrated form of pesticide.

There is a cause therefore for alarm as the pesticide cargo is as dangerous as a “ticking time bomb” that may cause another disaster of great magnitude again anytime. Any leakage could be destructive to our marine life as well as people living near the area.

Below is the complete account from Caroline J. Howard:

Toxic chemical leak will have international repercussions: expert

ABS-CBN News Channel

One cargo in the sunken M/V Princess of the Stars off Romblon can very well be a ticking time-bomb.

Dr. Romeo Quijano, a technical expert from the UP Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the UP Manila, who has done extensive study on the highly-toxic pesticide endosulfan, says the chemical belongs with the likes of other Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) like DDT and has been the subject of attempts at global banning.

“We have been pushing for a complete ban since 1990. There’s also a push by the European Union to include it in its official list of POPs for global banning.”

Endosulfan is highly toxic in whatever state.

Quijano rejects claims endosulfan in its raw form poses no immediate threat of contamination.

“The technical grade 92% (in the sunken ferry) endosulfan is a highly-concentrated form of the pesticide, so it doesn’t need activation before it can be toxic. It is toxic by itself, and as soon as it gets out of the compartment, animals and humans are exposed to immediate and long-term danger of toxicity even in very small amounts,” he said. “The level toxic to fish is .03 parts per billion. Assuming the container broke and all 10 tons spread, there can be sufficient concentration to kill fish within a 100 kilometer radius, even humans exposed to acute toxicity.”

Current can spread toxic chemical
Quijano admits containing the highly-toxic endosulfan and preventing a possible contamination is no easy task.

Unlike a possible oil leak, where efforts can be taken to separate oil from water, Quijano says endosulfan dissolves in water and spreads easily.

Looking at the worst-case scenario involving the toxic cargo, Quijano warns a leak of the highly-toxic chemical endosulfan could have far reaching consequences, polluting not just Philippine waters but the entire globe.

“If the chemical spreads, given underwater pressure, there’s a potential for it to become an international incident. It can go to international waters and the other parts of the globe because of ocean currents, or join atmospheric currents. In one month’s time, it can reach colder areas in North America or Canada.”

Need to contain immediately
Quijano says this risk makes it all the more urgent to know the integrity of the container and whether packing regulations had been complied with.

He adds the area should be closely watched for possible fishkills that would indicate a leakage of chemicals. Nearby communities must be warned to stay away from the water if this happens.

Quijano says the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, companies like Del Monte and Dole, which insist of using the toxic chemical, manufacturers of the chemical, and Sulpicio Lines, which carried the toxic cargo onboard a passenger vessel, are to blame for the potential danger posed by toxic contamination.

Quijano laments this threat could have been prevented had government listened to their advice to ban the chemical’s use in the country.

“These potential disasters are preventable, and there’s very little awareness on the concept of precaution, specially if we know the dangers of this pesticide… We hope regulatory officials won’t put the burden of proof on us, to wait for dead bodies to show up before they are convinced these things are potentially disastrous.”

In a study entitled “Risk Assessment in a Third World Reality: An Endosulfan Case History,” sometime in 1990, the FPA ordered a ban on endosulfan 35%, allowing only 5% formulation and severely restricted its use.

Companies like Del Monte were given a 2-year phase out period, but Quijano says this was followed by several extensions, approved against the recommendation of technical experts.

According to the study: “Real world experience… reveals that the risk assessment process has failed to protect public health and the environment, especially in Third World countries where financial, technical, human and other resources are sorely lacking and where socio-political circumstances are conducive for powerful chemical companies to exert influence and manipulate the market.”

“In fact, risk assessments have been used to legitimize the sale of largely unnecessary pesticides and facilitated public misinformation regarding the real risks people face when exposed to these toxic chemicals. The case history of endosulfan in the Philippines, a developing country, is an illustrative example of the reality that risk assessment, as currently practiced, is not workable and is easily distorted and manipulated by powerful chemical manufacturers,” the study said.

Today, in light of the M/V Princess of the Stars incident, things are no different.

The toxic cargo virtually ticking away beneath the ferry’s hull only points to the urgent need for change yet again, and a lesson hopefully learned before its too late.


Sana ay maalis na kaagad ang nakakalasong chemical cargo na iyan mula sa barkong lumubog para maalis na ang panganib na maaring idulot nito sa ating karagatan kapag nagkaroon ng leakage. Hindi lang mga isda at iba pang yamang dagat ang mapipinsala nito, maging ang buhay ng mga naninirahan malapit sa pinangyarihan ng sakuna ay nanganganib din.


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