THINK OF THESE: Poisoned air

How is the air these days in Davao City?

Is it better than ever or not.  In 2016, a news report stated: “The air quality in Davao City is better compared to other highly-urbanized cities in the country.”  The source of information was the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), a line agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Based on the monitoring with regards to Republic Act 8749 or The Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, Davao City has a good to fair air quality last year and this year,” the news report quoted an EMB official.

Last November 9, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio received the Clear Air Champion among highly-urbanized cities in the country from Clean Air Philippines.

This is good news indeed.  No wonder, the defunct “Asiaweek” once dubbed Davao as one of the most liveable cities in Asia.  Life is here, so goes the popular slogan of the city.

What is even more poetic is the fact that a new report published by “The Lancet” said that pollution caused 9.19 million deaths around the world.  Susan Brink, who has written a news based on the released report, wrote:

“The nine million figure adds up to 16% of all deaths worldwide, killing three times more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.  Pollution is responsible for 15 times more deaths than wars and other forms of violence.”

What about the war on drugs, the current mantra of the Duterte administration?  Pollution still tops.  On global scale, only 0.49 million deaths were caused by drug-related incidents.  In addition, 1.41 million people died as a result of malnutrition.

Only the combination of tobacco smoking (7.17 million deaths) and alcohol use (2.31 million deaths) surpassed the record caused by pollution: 9.48 million deaths versus 9.19 million deaths.

“Pollution is sometimes called the invisible killer… its impact is difficult to track because health statistics measure disease, not pollution,” said Dr. Richard Fuller, president of the Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute.

As a result pollution is often misrepresented as a minor issue, when it actually needs serious action now, Dr. Fuller told Stephen Leahy, who wrote a news report for the Inter Press Service.

In an earlier report, Dr. Fuller said that the health of hundreds of millions of people is affected and millions die because of preventable pollution problems like toxic waste, air pollution, ground and surface water contamination, metal smelting and processing, used car battery recycling and artisanal gold mining.

“The global health burden from pollution is astonishing, and mainly affects women and children,” Dr. Fuller was quoted as saying, adding that 40% of all deaths worldwide are directly attributable to pollution as a study done by Cornell University in 2007 has shown.  “The world community needs to wake up to this fact.”

The recent “Lancet”-published report said every country in the world is affected, whether industrialized or developing.  But 92% of the reported deaths are from low- and middle-income countries.

“Pollution in rapidly developing countries is just getting worse and worse and worse. And it isn’t getting attention it deserves.  It needed to be rigorously studied,” wrote Dr. Philip Landrigan, pediatrician and professor of environmental medicine and global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.  He, together with Dr. Fuller, conducted the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.

The Philippines is not spared from the health hazards brought about by pollution.  “Air pollution is causing serious health problems and lower productivity, severely impacting the Filipinos’ quality of life,” commented Robert Vance Pulley, who said those words when he was still the World Bank Country Director to the Philippines.

Many air pollutants – a mix of gases, droplets, and particles – are able to pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and are eventually transported to the heart and the entire body through blood vessels.

“Because the cardiovascular system is dependent on the functioning of the respiratory system, it is also indirectly affected by the deleterious effects of the pollution on the lungs,” the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) explains.

Another study, also published in “The Lancet,” showed that those living near a major road have a higher risk of dying than the rest of the population.  It concluded that long-term exposure to traffic-released air  pollution may shorten life expectancy.

Other studies also revealed that heart attacks, life-threatening heart rhythms, and thickening of the blood can also be traced to exposure to air pollution.  “To make it clear:  all these bodily changes spell doom for the Filipinos living in Metro Manila (and other highly-urbanized centers),” warned Dr. Willie T. Ong, a cardiologist who writes a regular column for a national daily.

Perhaps not too many know that air pollution is tied to high blood pressure in pregnancy.  Statistics showed that women develop high blood pressure during about one in ten pregnancies. Having so-called gestational hypertension makes it more likely that a woman will need a cesarean section, that she will give birth early and that her baby will be born small.

“Our results suggest air pollution does have some impact on the risk of gestational hypertension,” said epidemiologist Dr. Xiaohui Xu, who led the study at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “This could have some subsequent effects on both maternal and fetal health.”

As pollution is often described as an “invisible killer,” it is often misrepresented as a minor health issue, according to Dr. Fuller.  In the new report, it was stated that “the health-related costs of pollution are hidden in hospital budgets.”

Brink, who authored “The Fourth Trimester,” asked what “hidden costs” means.  Dr. Landrigan replied: “Say a person comes into the hospital with cardiac arythmia.  Nobody makes the connection that it happened a day when air pollution was extremely high.  Rates of heart disease and stroke are kicked up by air pollution.”