11 December 2004


Aside from diabetes and degenerative conditions, there is now a recent study that links lead exposure and cataract development in men. Another study done last week showed that breathing air even with low levels of benzene can be harmful to the bone marrow --- the body's blood cell factory.

Here's the bad news from lead exposure:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Lifetime exposure to lead from paint in older houses, drinking water pipes and other sources appears to increase men's risk of cataract development, researchers reported on Tuesday.

"This research suggests that reduction of lead exposure throughout a man's lifetime should help reduce his chances of developing cataracts and of requiring cataract surgery," said Debra Schaumberg of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, lead author of the study.

"By preventing or delaying the onset of this condition, many instances of blindness worldwide could be prevented," she added.

[Reuters Health]

And here's the bad news from benzene exposure:

The first study of a large group of workers breathing air with very low levels of benzene suggests that the chemical may harm the bone marrow, the body's main factory for blood cells, even in amounts below the threshold deemed safe under American law.

The researchers said counts of certain protective white blood cells in 250 Chinese shoe factory workers exposed to small amounts of benzene less than one part per million in the air were 15 to 18 percent lower than counts in a similar group of 140 garment workers who were not exposed. The lower blood counts were not in a range deemed harmful, but independent experts said the findings strongly hinted that benzene was one of a small group of chemicals for which no safe threshold exists.

The study was conducted by scientists from the National Cancer Institute, China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of California, Berkeley, and several other institutions.

[NYTimes Health]

Here in the Philippines, I think most people have lived and died from lead and bezene exposures WITHOUT even knowing it. Here, we don't get lead only from "paint in older houses" or old "drinking water pipes," as our American counterparts, but from mere walking in Metro Manila streets, where at one time, was shown to have an air pollution condition that is five times higher than the WHO standard for suspended particulates. Dr Raffy Castillo, a noted cardiologist here, at one time deplored the quality of air here in Manila.

Of course, it is good if you live in the suburbs like the Sassy Lawyer, as chances of benzene and lead exposure are reduced, but it would be too naive to assume that there is zero exposure in the suburbs and nearby provinces.

Sure, we have the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 or Republic Act 8749, which if you read in full --- here, courtesy of Chan Robles' Virtual Law Library --- is magnificently crafted, comprehensively formulated, and I will bet my derriere may indeed be ONE OF THE BEST LAWS on environmental protection in the world, but is NOTHING BUT A JOKE when it comes to enforcement.

Sure, we also got that ADB $300million Loan to improve Metro Manila's Air Quality, but can somebody please tell me what happened to that $300M? That's a lot of money, if you ask me. And clean air is something that we still DO NOT HAVE up to now.

Vehicular traffic, which is as hellish as it can be here in Manila and other nearby cities, has been known as the single largest source of environmental lead pollution. It accounts for over 90 percent (!!!) of all lead emissions into the atmosphere and (please take note of this) to the accumulation in the soil and foodstuff.

Sure, we now have unleaded gasoline as an option for our vehicles, but did you know that because of flimsy business reasons, the quality of air in Metro Manila remains despicable?

Phillipine refiners asked the government to defer the second phase of the Clean Air Act(???), slated to take effect in 2003.

The firms, hurt by rising crude prices, said they could not afford to invest in equipment(???) to reduce the aromatics and benzene content of motor fuels, as mandated under the law.

The legislation called for reduction of the aromatics content in unleaded gasoline to 35 percent from 45-50 percent, and reduction of gasoline benzene to 2 percent from 4-5 percent, both by 2003. It also called for reduction of diesel sulfur to 0.3 percent by 2001 and to 0.05 percent by 2004 from 0.5 percent in 2000.

The oil companies said they had huge losses (yea, right?!?) due to the imbalance between petroleum prices in the domestic market and those in international markets, and couldn't afford investments in upgrading. They included units of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Caltex Petroleum Corp., and Petron Corp.

[Oil and Gas Research]

These petroleum companies think benzene and lead exposure is nothing but a deterrent in profit-taking. Worse, they think law enforcement can be postponed. Sadly, I have to confess that in a country like ours, law enforcement can indeed be postponed. To our detriment.

Meanwhile, unsuspecting people and Filipinos are exposed to toxic substances everyday.

Even if benzene makes up about only 1 percent of gasoline, the recent study cited above confirms the harm it does to the body. Benzene has long been identified as a cause of leukemia and other blood ailments.

Lead toxicity brings about brain and blood problems often resulting in "delayed or reversed development, permanent learning disabilities, seizures, coma, and even death."

Be careful what you breathe out there.

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