30 March 1998

Japanese shipbreaking breaks workers in the Philippines:

The globalization of economic activity and the accelerating international division of work, has lead to the dumping of hazardous and less profitable industries from industrialized or emerging industrial countries onto unprotected and vulnerable regions in less developed countries. Typical of such industries is shipbuilding. Four years ago, a Japanese shipbuilding company, Tsuneishi Heavy Industries Inc., developed an industrial zone, West Cebu Industrial Park (WCIP), in the West Cebu Island in the Philippines. A local developer was contracted by Tsuneishi to operate a shipbreaking dock there.

Shipbreaking is usually performed in a dry dock to prevent toxic substances, including asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), lead and tin, from polluting the environment. Tsuneishi invested in the WCIP because of the relatively loose regulations applied on the island, and the cheaper labor available. In fact, ships are dismantled in the sea there, and there are no effective measures to prevent pollution.

Some Japanese labor unions and citizens groups, concerned about the activities of Japanese companies overseas, have been following this case, and the above-mentioned toxic substances have been identified in the soil around the region. When revealed, this pollution raised fears among local people, who demanded more information about the actual state of their environment.

On February 12-13, 1998, a seminar on the "Effects of Shipbuilding Operations at WCIP on the Workers and Environment" was organized in West Sebu. More than 300 local people, including fishermen, workers and other residents, participated in it.

On the 12th, a member of one of the environmentalist groups from Japan reported the results of their sampling and analysis, concluding that the pollutants were highly likely to be derived from the shipbreaking operations taking place in the sea off the island.

A researcher from Japan supported the conclusion by indicating that tributyl tin (TBT) and triphenyl tin (TPT) used to coat the bottoms of ships, and which are being called into question worldwide because of their suspected endocrine disrupting action were detected in the polluted soil.

In addition, I reported that the first asbestosis case in Taiwan, which had long been the top country in the shipbuilding industry, was that of a shipyard worker who had been engaged in shipbuilding and breaking for 40 years. The 1st Korean asbestosis victim was also a shipbuilding worker.

In fact, asbestos-induced health hazards had also been reported among workers in the former US naval bases in the Philippines.

During the seminar the local participants had an opportunity to discuss these problems with representatives of the companies concerned, and government officials. The general manager of Cebu Industrial Park Development Inc.(CIPDI) denied that WCIP firms dumped the toxic substances in the bay. He claimed that the bay had already been polluted before WCIP was established. Eventually, however, he promised to present the results of the Japanese study to the multi-party monitoring committee created to check WCIP's compliance with environment laws.

An official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) admitted that there were no regulations applicable to the pollutants. A provincial board member said that he would conduct a legislative investigation for policy changes.

The WCIP problem has just begun to call people's attention to their living and occupational environments. Their efforts to investigate the causes of the pollution there will continue further. Our stance, of course, is and will be on the side of local people.

Samples taken from soil and sea at West Cebu:

No. 1
TBT (tributyl tin)
4.86 mg/kg
13.6 mg/kg
TPT(triphenyl tin)
8.01 mg/kg
22.3 mg/kg
13.8 mg/kg
0.07 mg/kg
0.16 mg/kg

Source: Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC), JOSHRC Newsletter No.14 (Mar, 1998). By FURUYA Sugio; JOSHRC General Secretary