Don’t add to cart: Exposure to dangerous chemicals ‘highly possible’ due to e-commerce, says DENR

Published April 19, 2021, 10:14 AM

by Ellson Quismorio

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has acknowledged the “risk” that e-commerce brings to Filipinos when it comes to the online trade of regulated hazardous substances.

“While e-commerce is a significant driver of our economy and provides convenience to millions of consumers, there [is] also [a] certain degree of risk to the population in general,” DENR Usec. Juan Miguel Cuna said over the weekend.

Rreferring to the online selling of regulated chemicals or chemical products, Cuna said: “With these products being highly accessible to anybody who has access to online trading sites, risk of human exposure or environmental contamination is highly possible, especially when sellers or suppliers do not have permits from government regulatory agencies.” 

Cuna made the remarks last Friday, April 16 during a virtual interagency meeting involving environmental, health and trade regulators, e-commerce executive, and chemical safety advocates. The topic of the meeting was the supposed unfitting use of online shopping platforms to sell regulated chemicals such as cyanide and mercury.

A presentation by the EcoWaste Coalition illustrated how third-party dealers are taking advantage of digital commerce to sell regulated chemicals in blatant disregard of existing regulatory controls.  

“Regulated chemicals sold by unlicensed or unregistered persons are too easily accessible on the Internet. Chemicals purchased from these unauthorized sources may be diverted to inappropriate or illegal activities,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.  

“Chemicals purchased by unauthorized users without proper knowledge and training may result in adverse health and environmental outcomes, including chemical exposure and spill,” he added.

The group said it found online product ads for substances belonging to the Philippine Priority Chemicals List or those covered by multilateral chemical agreements such as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. 

It also called attention to banned products being sold online such as mercury-added skin whitening cosmetics, mercury-based medical devices, cyanide-laden silver cleaning agents, lead-containing spray paints, and highly hazardous pesticides.

In a bid to curb the online trade of regulated chemicals, the EcoWaste Coalition said the government should designate e-commerce Inspectors to promote and ensure compliance to chemical controls regulations.

It also prodded online shopping platforms to appoint individuals who will monitor and ensure that non-compliant product ads are immediately taken down. These products’ dealers must also be blacklisted and reported to the concerned regulatory agencies.

The group further said e-commerce sites must agree on a code of conduct that will protect online marketplaces from the unauthorized and unlawful trade of hazardous substances, mixtures, and products.