Air pollution kills nearly 5,000 Metro residents yearly

By TJ Burgonio
First Posted 19:33:00 09/04/2007
Filed Under: Environmental pollution, Health 
MANILA, Philippines -- While the phaseout of leaded gasoline has improved air quality in the country, more than 18 million people still live in cities with unhealthy levels of airborne particulate matter.

Of the urban cities, Metro Manila has the largest ``health burden? from air pollution.

Estimates showed there were nearly 4,968 premature deaths each year in Manila due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from exposure to poor air quality, according to the Philippine Environment Monitor, a joint report of the World Bank and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released Tuesday.

These accounted for 12 percent of all deaths in the metropolis, the highest in any urban area in the country, it said.
The latest report examined the role of environment in people's health in the Philippines.

Rahul Raturi, sector manager of the WB's Rural Development, Natural Resources and Environmental Sector, said that one-fifth of reported cases of disease were due to air pollution, water pollution, poor sanitation and hygiene.

``The cost of treatment and lost income from these environmental diseases is roughly estimated at P14 billion per year,? he said in his address at the launch.

Raturi said the poor were more exposed to environmental risks. Low-income groups had lower access to basic sanitation and safe water supply. They were also exposed to water and air pollution.

According to the report, several governmentinterventions over the past 10 years had improved air quality.

For instance, the closure of a number of coal-firedpower plants near Manila in 2001 led to a reduction in sulfur dioxide concentrations, while the phaseout of leaded gasoline led to a ten-fold reduction in ambient lead levels since 2001, it said.

But air pollution remained higher in urban centers than in rural areas, the Environment Monitor said.

Concentrations of particulate matter, often used as an indicator of air pollution, were estimated to be three times higher on average in ``urban roadsides? than in rural areas, it said.

Many cities in the country had air pollution levels above national standards, it added.

Particulate matter is the generic term used for a type of air pollution that consists of complex and varying mixtures of particles suspended in the air.

``With regard to the health impacts of air pollution, one very clear message stands out: Particulate matter emitted from motor vehicles is the largest health risk from air pollution,? Raturi said.

``Some 18 million people live in cities that exceed DENR standards. Metro Manila with its large population and high pollution levels, has the largest health burden from air pollution, with motor vehicles and utility vehicles being the greatest culprits,? he added.

Particulate emissions in Manila largely came from motor vehicles (84 percent), solid waste burning (10 percent), and industries (5.5 percent).

Seventy percent of car emissions came from more than 200,000 diesel-powered utility vehicles, like jeepneys, and 170,000 gasoline-powered motorcycles and tricycles.

``Prioritizing measures to further reduce these emissions under the Clean Air Act would result in important health 
improvements,? Raturi said.
In terms of premature deaths due to pollution, Metro Manila was followed by Metro Cebu's 608, Davao City's 414, Zamboanga City's 240, Iloilo City's 204, Cabanatuan's 134, according to the report.

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Notes to ponder

NASA claims that the government could slow down worldwide global warming by cutting down on soot emissions. Studies by NASA show that cutting down on soot would not only have an immediate cooling effect, but would also put a stop to many of the deaths caused by air pollution. When soot is formed, it typically travels through the air absorbing and releasing solar radiation which in turn begins to warm the atmosphere. Cutting soot emissions would be an immediate help against global warming, as the soot would quickly fall out of the atmosphere and begin to cool it down.

Cutting back on soot emissions would buy us time in our fight against global warming. Soot is caused by the partial burning of fossil fuels, wood and vegetation. Soot is known to contain over forty different cancer causing chemicals, and a complete cut would offer untold health benefits worldwide.

Environmental conservation has always been a topic for lengthy discussions, but up until recent times, global warming and climate changes were vague subjects, with no hard proof. Not surprisingly, the previous lack of attention to these issues have created a very gloomy outlook on our future. So, considering all this, what could be the biggest contributor to climate changes through global warming? Transportation - the man-made iron horses, flying machines and sea monsters, so to speak.

The question we have now is how green is our transportation? The majority of the worlds' vehicles are fueled by oil (petrol, diesel and kerosene). Even if they rely on electricity, the stations used to generate this electricity use fossil fuels for power! Excluding vehicle manufacture, transportation is responsible for 14% of the artificially created greenhouse emissions, mostly carbondioxide.

Automobiles, trains and planes are all responsible for this problem, but cars are the highest impact-makers. They release approximately six times more carbondioxide than a plane and seven times more than sea vessels.

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is somewhat difficult to define because many air pollutants, at low concentrations, are essential nutrients for the sustainable development of ecosystems. So, air pollution could be defined as:A state of the atmosphere, which leads to the exposure of human beings and/or ecosystems to such high levels or loads of specific compounds or mixtures thereof, that damage is caused. With very few exceptions, all compounds that are considered air pollutants have both natural as well as human-made origins.

Air pollution is not a new phenomenon; in Medieval times, the burning of coal was forbidden in London while Parliament was in session. Air pollution problems have dramatically increased in intensity as well as scale due to the increase in emissions since the Industrial Revolution.