Saturday, January 28, 2012

Current State of the Water Ecosystem of the Philippines

Author: Adrian William Tan

Upon a glance, you could say that the bodies of water in the Philippines are polluted, not being cared for, slowly dying, well those thoughts couldn't be farther away from the truth. The current state of the aquatic ecosystem in the Philippines is dismal, and the ever increasing population of the country isn't helping this problem one bit, if ever, its even aiding in the destruction and pollution of our waters.

The Philippines is an archipelago which means we are rich in bodies of water. We have 412 principal river basins in 119 proclaimed watersheds. We also have Bays and Coastal Waters cover an area of 266,000 km², while oceanic waters cover 1,934,000 km². In addition to those, we also have quite a number of lakes and multiple sources of ground water. You could really say that we are rich in bodies of water, but what are really the state of these natural resources?

The Pasig River is a commercially important artery flowing through the center of Metro Manila, providing the main drainage outlet for most of the waterways. But in time, it has been gravely polluted by the informal settlers near its perimeter. Although in the past few years, rehabilitation of the river is being implemented and as of today, some improvements in the quality of its water can already be seen.

EMB monitored a total of 39 bays and coasts in the Philippines for a long time and regularly since 1996. Manila Bay has its own monitoring program. Except for Puerto Galera Bay, which is a protected seascape, the data indicated that 64 percent had DO levels below 5mg/l, the minimum criterion set for waters suitable as a tourist zone, fishery spawning area, and contact recreation or swimming area. In the coasts of Mandaue to Minglanilla in Cebu (Central Visayas), DO levels varied from 0 to 14mg/l, which indicate that the ecosystem is already undergoing “stress” during certain periods.Except in Cawacawa (Zamboanga City), the maximum values of BOD were all within the criterion set for Class SB waters of 5mg/1. Manila Bay has BOD levels that are generally within fishery water quality criterion. However, seasonal high organic loadings from rivers draining into the bays and in particular, Manila Bay, also result in harmful algal blooms (HABs) that pose a continuing threat to marine resources and public health.

Laguna de Bay is one of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia and the largest and one of the most vital inland bodies of water in the Philippines. Laguna de Bay is estimate to receive approximately 74,300 tons per year of BOD pollution. Domestic sources contribute 69 percent while the remaining 31 percent is from industrial and agricultural sources. Additionally, with the sedimentation rate of 0.5 centimeters per year, an estimated 66 percent of the land area in the watershed is vulnerable to erosion.Routine monitoring of BOD in Laguna Lake shows that is meets the Class C water quality criterion. This indicates that BOD is not an issue, but siltation may be the main problem.

Another body of water that faces pollution are the ground waters. Pollution of groundwater may come from domestic wastewater, agricultural runoffs, and industrial effluents. This occurs when contaminants reach the aquifer or water table in the form of leachate. Domestic wastewater is the main contributor of bacterial contamination to the groundwater supplies. The presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water supplies can cause water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and others. Limited data on the bacteriological content of groundwater from 129 wells indicated a high level of positive coliform bacteria in 75 wells (58 percent).

If you think the bodies of water have it bad, think about the organisms that have to live in those waters. Some of them get poisoned then die, others die from euthrophication. There are multiple cases of destruction of marine habitat such as the destruction and of coral reefs. Another issue is the marine ecosystem is facing would be excessive fishing. In a nut shell, we have a lot of polluted bodies water in the Philippines. And our marine ecosystem and biodiversity is slowly diminishing. But all hope in humanity is not yet lost. Despite all these depressing information about the poor state of the bodies of water in the Philippines, there are still some actions being taken to preserve our bodies of water. Among these are the Marine Sanctuaries which aim to preserve the marine ecosystem in a small area. Among these are the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary, Basdio Marine Sanctuary, Nalusuan Marine Sanctuary and many more. All of which aim to preserve the biodiversity and marine habitat within a small area.

Philippines: Environment Monitor 2003
“Laguna de Bay: The Living Lake” LLDA flyer

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Water Borne Diseases in the Philippines

Author: Maru de Vera

Water borne disease, simply put, are maladies caused from exposure to contaminated liquids usually from human, animal or chemical wastes. It could range from ingestion of dirty water, to contact with it. Lack of sanitary waste disposal of these wastes kills many people every year. Here in the Philippines, the most common outbreaks investigated by the Department of Health are the following: cholera, bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. These outbreaks can be both passive and catastrophic because most of the diseases have no specific treatment modalities. For the past twenty years, it has been the number one cause of morbidity and mortality incidence rate - as high as 1,997 per 100,000 population while mortality rate is 6.7 per 100,000 population.

Hepatitis A can be acquired from consumption of water contaminating fecal matter, usually found in poor sanitation areas. It is a viral diseases interfering with liver functions, and symptoms are fever, jaundice and diarrhea usually from six to nine months. Fortunately, a vaccine is available.

Typhoid fever, like the former, is caused by contamination from fecal matter, except the disease is bacterial, and simple contact can trigger the disease.

Salmenollosis and Campylobateriosis are two of the common water borne causes of bacterial diarrhea. The most common sources of salmonella are raw poultry, eggs, unpaesteurized milk, cheese products, and exposure to infected animals especially turtles, iguanas and other reptiles, chickens, cattle, and poultry. Campylobabacter jejuni is the organism that causes campylobateriosis. Cattle, chickens, birds and flies are reported to be the sources, as well as non-chlorinated water such as streams and ponds. Another cause is inadequate sewage treatment, when human wastes are disposed of in open latrines, ditches, canals and water courses.

An acute seasonal problem in urban and coastal areas in the Philippines is the access to clean and adequate water remains. The government released some of the reports for the four urban cirtical regions in terms of water quality and quantity - National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Central Visayas. Only thirty six percent of the country's river systems are classified as sources of public water supply, while fifty eight percent of groundwater sample is contaminated with coliform therefore needing treatment. Thirty-one percent of illness monitored for a five-year period were from water-borne sources and lastly, many areas experience water shortage during dry seasons. Aside from that, there is considerable under-investment by the government in sanitation and sewarage, even thought it was ranked as a high priority in the Philippines Agenda 21 of 1996.

The best approach to preventing this and limiting economic losses due to waterborne diseases is prevention through health education and strict and water sanitation. For example, the team of Indang Water District is installing water supply to replace water lines installed along the road and sometimes along open sewers that have caused waterborne diseases. Another system devised by the Philippines is the Food and Waterborne Disease Prevention and Control Program (FWBDPCP) esatblished in 1997, but becamse fully operational in year 2000 with a budget of PHP551,000. The program has focused on the diseases mentioned earler, and so many other diseases acquired through contaminated food and water.

Personally, I think synchronization between the government, private organizations aimed for these type of problems, and the citizens is the most important thing to remember when preventing waterborne diseases. As a head of the country, the government is responsible for handling productive and cost-effective ways to remove, or at least minimize the ridiculous rate at which outbreaks have caused the country over the years. They should hire capable employees that does their job willingly, and be passionate in what they do. Private organizations can support these programs, and maybe even host their own, and as citizens of a country, we should be wary and aware of what is happening around us. It is not enough that information be given by the government, and media, but it is our duty to be informed with this type of news, and be up to date. Online social websites like twitter or facebook, or even blogs like these can provide these type of information. As said earleir, total synchronization of all these makes for a better and healthier country.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Water Pollutants

Author: Adrian William Tan

There are many different chemicals in the form of pollutants, and they range from simple ions to complex molecules. These pollutants make up different classes, and each class have unique properties.

Organic pollutants are ones that usually contain carbon. Many of these are remains of living organisms. Some examples of these organic pollutants are hydrocarbons, PCBs, insecticides and detergents. Hydrocarbons are further divided into two classes: 1. single-bonded alkanes, double-bonded alkenes, and triple-bonded alkenes and 2. aromatic hydrocarbons containing ring structures and are also more reactive than the first class. PCBs are stable unreactive fluids used for hydraulic fluids, coolant/insulation fluids in transformers and plasticizers in paints. PCBs are also not water-soluble, and banned in some countries. Insecticides such as DDT's are harmful in the sense that the fat tissues of lower animals they accumulate enter the food chain, and have been banned decades before.

Inorganic fertilizers are not necessarily toxic, but can become a threat to environment when improperly used. Nitrates and phosphates are main components of fertilizers, and these compounds cause algal blooms in surface water. This results a decline in oxygen level of the water, and thus create eutrophication. This process involves the uptake of oxygen by microrganisms that break down algae resulting in oxygen starvation.

Metals are good conductors of electricity and generally enter chemical reactions as cations - positive ions. These metals are natural substances from weathering of ore bodies sometimes relocating to places where they can cause massive environmental damage. Found in surface waters in their stable ionic form, some examples of harmful metals are lead, zink, manganese, calcium and potassium. Their reactions to other ions makes them a pollutant, which involves electron transfer reactions with oxygen. This leads to formation of toxic oxyradicals. Also, some metals can become metalloids and then bond to organic compounds to form lipophilic substances that are highly toxic. These poisons can be stored in the fat-suplly of animals and humans. Having a desnity of greater than five which is also the root of its name, heavy metals are the most dangerous metals. Because they cannot be broken down into smaller and less harmful parts, they are non-biodegradable meaning the only possible workaround is if the metal is stored in body tissues.

Pollutants can enter the environment in a number of ways, but they are mostly from the discharge of sewage water which is very harmful, especially when the waste - usually industrial in nature - is released directly unto surface water. Domestic sewage water are composed mostly of paper, soap, urine, feces, and detergents while industrial wastes range depending on the specific procesess it underwent. Heavy metals enter through mining and smelting operations, chlorphenols and fungicids with pulp mills, insecticides with mothproofing factories. Land pollution is easier to control than water, because activities like offshore oil and manganese extraction are more difficult to monitor. That said, oil, through oil tankers and shipwrecks are released into bodies of water, usually the seas. Paints on boats decays in time, and in long trips on the ocean which eventually gets stuck at sea. Pesticides, on the other hand, are applied to water for aquatic pest control. Compounds such as nitrates and phosphates are absorbed by plants, and in their death, they are released into the soil, which gets washed away out of shore. Aside from those, another way pollutants can enter is accidentally by atmospheric deposition. This way, chemicals enter the water easily, because they are converted in the form of droplets or sprays.

The effect of these pollutants can be largely seen in small inland seas and lakes because larger bodies of water have natural dilution systems for incoming pollutant whereas the the smaller ones do not.

These pollutants can affect living things in a variety of ways sometimes positively while others not. When a pollutant first enters the body, one of the initial reactions is setting up protective mechanisms - for example detoxification, - but these types of defense sometimes produce substances that causes more harm to the cells than the actual pollutant. A different response is reducing the availability of pollutants through chemical reactions, to either excrete of store them. Even moreso, an organism can produce substances that repairs these type of damages, but the response to toxicity is largely depended on the amount of pollutant ingested, and the quality of the repair tissues of the organism. When these mechanisms fail, the pollutants then completely cause complications. Genotoxins are compounds that enter the body and damages DNA. This genotoxins are the cause for the formation of mutant cells that produce defects, oftentimes hazardous to health. Sometimes the effect is carcinogenic which is cancer inducing. Other times, the complication is neurotoxic which have neurological effects on the organism. Lastly, pollutants can cause reproductive failures. These are called endoctrine disruptors.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Placing Bets and Paying the Price of Pollution

Author: Maru de Vera

The Presidential Decree 1067 can be read here.

The water code of the Philippines states that ownership and rights to all of the water resources in the country belongs to the government, and therefore they should handle the decision-making process regarding the correct usage of those properties, which includes but not limited to: appropriation, utilization, control, conservation and protection. The article also provides a comprehensive list of rules to proper treatment for both the water resources and the structures controlling them, as well as the different punishments depending on the class of law broken.

On the other hand, the Republic Act 3931 can be read here.

Basically, it is an act creating the national water and air pollution control commission - a set of standards made by the congress which is then assigned to qualified workers. These workers would spearhead the management of water and air pollution in the country.

Upon viewing both of the articles, I personally believe they are mostly appropriate. The prohibitions are well defined and the punishments, I think, are just as well written. I can confidently say I agree with it save for some price adjustments. Charging fifty pesos per day as violation fee does not seem right, because a damage in our ecosystem I am pretty sure is worth more than that. It feels like a small price to pay for something that could potentially affect future generations in very many ways. Most people can afford it too. This means getting caught does not really do anything to them but give a small shot at their wallets. I refuse to believe replacing nature is that cheap.