Are we breathing clean air in MM?

This was the question of Dr. Preciosa Corazon Pabroa, a Member of the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) when she presented her study during the National Research and Development Conference in April. To emphasize further the importance of clean air, she added that humans can survive three (3) weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air.

Air particulate pollution affects health (respiratory and cardiovascular functions), environment and contributes to climate change. And the big problem is, air pollutants can come from natural or anthropogenic (or man-made) sources. One thing is sure - traffic is a major source of air pollution in Metro Manila.

The mix-up in the air of the variety of air pollution sources, however, makes it impossible to simply collect and weigh the air particulates.

The Importance of air

Particulate Matter (PM) is any type of solid particles in the air in the form of smoke, dust and vapors which are produced by many sources, including burning of diesel fuels by vehicles, fossil fuels, mixing and application of fertilizers and pesticides, road construction, industrial processes and operation of woodstoves.

PM10 or coarse particles are of less concern but they can irritate a person's eyes, nose, and throat. Dust and smoke are visible examples of PM10.

On the other hand, PM2.5 or fine particles pose the greatest health risk. These fine particles can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream and can only be seen underneath a microscope.

According to the DENR-Environment Management Bureau, the agency responsible for the implementation and enforcement of Republic Act No. 8749, otherwise known as the “Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999″, some microscopic particles in the air can be breathed into the lungs causing increased respiratory disease and lung damage.

RA 8749 also aims to raise awareness about pollution prevention through programs such as Linis/Ligtas Hangin, together with Bantay Tambutso, Bantay Tsimnea, and Bantay Sunog. It imposes regulatory standards to sources of pollution such as factories and power plants.

DOST, together with DENR, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Department of Energy (DOE), and others help in implementing the R.A. 8749.

Make way for NATs

Dr. Pabroa of the DOST-Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) that conducts air pollution source apportionment activities, studied how Nuclear Analytical Techniques (NATs) generate multi-element data for use in receptor modeling to unravel the real score of air particulate pollution in the air we breathe.NATs are well-suited for airborne particulate matter (APM) research providing the multi-element data for use in air pollution, while the source apportionment studies (receptor modeling) enables better understanding of the sources of particulate pollution in critical cities or areas.

Dr. Pabroa’s study is titled, “Air Particulate Matter: Characterization by Elemental and Isotopic Fingerprinting of Organic and Inorganic Pollution Sources and Possible Mitigation Measures by Electron Beam Technology”. Simply, it provides basic data for better air quality management and the environmental authorities and policymakers with key information necessary for implementation and review of the effectiveness of policy-level changes intended to air pollution reduction initiative of the government.

In her research, she conducted source apportionment studies in critical areas such as in highly industrialized areas (North Harbor and Valenzuela City) and in a prime tourist spot (Boracay Island). This is an effort to provide science-based information on local air particulate pollution problem in these sites.

DOST-NRCP Policy Forum

For the policymakers to better appreciate the science-based information generated by the project, the DOST-NRCP will conduct a policy forum to come up with efficient policy recommendations. The Luzon Policy Forum with the theme “Unraveling Air Particulate Pollution Effects in the Air we Breathe” will happen on November 11, 2019 at the DOST-PNRI, Diliman, Quezon City.

The forum participants include Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Local Government Units (LGUs) of Valenzuela, Manila, Quezon City, Makati, Taguig, Paranaque, Pasay, Las Pinas, Aklan, Senate, House of Representatives and DOST and its attached agencies. The detailed results of the study will be revealed during the policy forum.

For the question “are we breathing clean air in Metro Manila?”, Dr. Pabroa, with the application of NATs and receptor modelling says “the air quality in Metro Manila is bad”. But on a positive note, we can still breathe clean air if we do our own share by participating in the pollution prevention programs of the government.


As revealed by NATs receptor modeling, air quality in MM is bad.


On a positive note: On 18 November 2015 during the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting, Metro Manila employees were made to go on holiday for a week. Naturally, only a few vehicles plied Metro Manila for that week and this picture of clear, blue skies above Metro Manila was taken.