Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lead pollution due to vehicular emissions in urban areas in the Philippines

Lead (Pb) has been known to be toxic since ancient times. It is a widespread contaminant in soils and Pb poisoning is one of the most prevalent public health problems in many parts of the world. It was the first metal to be linked with failures in reproduction. It can cross the placenta easily. It also affects the brain, causing hyperactivity and deficiency in the fine motor functions, thus, it results in damage to the brain. The nervous systems of children are especially sensitive to Pb leading to retardation. Pb is cardiotoxic and contributes to cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle leading to the enlargement of the heart).

Pb is released into the environment from the weathering of Pb-containing rocks, the industry, and the combustion of fossil fuels. Emissions from vehicles are thus a major source of environmental contamination by Pb especially in cities. Ona et al. (2006) conducted a study that looked into Pb pollution in selected urban areas in the Philippines with the following objectives: (1) to determine the levels of Pb in soil from selected urbanized cities in central region of the Philippines; (2) to identify areas with soil Pb concentration values that exceed estimated natural concentrations and allow- able limits; and (3) to determine the possible sources that contribute to elevated soil Pb concentration (if any) in the study area.

The study focused on the determination of Pb levels in soils of selected cities in Luzon, Philippines. The sites included: Site 1 – Tarlac City in Tarlac; Site 2 – Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija; Site 3 – Malolos City in Bulacan; Site 4 – San Fernando City in Pampanga; Site 5 – Balanga City in Bataan; and Site 6 – Olongapo City in Zambales. Soil samples were collected from areas along major thoroughfares regularly tra- versed by tricycles, passenger jeepneys, cars, vans, trucks, buses, and other motor vehicles. Soil samples were collected from five sampling sites in each of the study areas. Samples from the selected sampling sites were obtained approximately 2 to 3 meters from the road. Analysis of the soil samples for Pb content was conducted using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer.

Findings revealed Pb levels ranging from 1.5 to 251 mg kg–1 in all the soil samples collected from the 30 sampling sites in the six cities. Elevated soil Pb levels i.e.greater than 25 mg kg–1 Pb) were observed in five out of the six cities sampled. Site 4 showed the highest Pb concentration (73.9 ± 94.4 mg kg–1), followed by Site 6 (56.3 ± 17.1 mg kg–1), Site 3 (52.0 ± 33.1 mg kg–1), Site 5 (39.3 ± 19.0 mg kg–1), and Site 2 (38.4 ± 33.2 mg kg–1). Soil Pb level in Site 1 (16.8 ± 12.2 mg kg–1) was within the estimated natural Pb concentration range of 5 to 25 mg kg–1. The study found that the average soil Pb concentration from the six cities studied were below the maximum tolerable limit according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The high Pb concentration in Site 4 was attributed by the authors mainly to vehicular emission.

The researchers concluded that "only one (San Juan in Site 4) of the thirty sampling sites showed a Pb concentration above the WHO permissible limit of 100 mg kg–1. San Juan in Site 4 had a Pb concentration of >250 mg kg–1. On the average, elevated Pb concentration was evident in the soil samples from San Fernando, Olongapo, Malolos, Balanga, and Cabanatuan. The average soil Pb concentrations in these cities exceeded the maximum estimated natural soil Pb concentration of 25 mg kg–1. Average soil Pb concentration in Site 1 (16.8 mg kg–1) was well within the estimated natural concentration range of 5 to 25 mg kg–1. Data gathered from the study areas showed that elevated levels of Pb in soil were due primarily to vehicular emissions and partly to igneous activity."

Ona LF, Alberto AMP, Prudente JA and Sigua GC. 2006. Levels of lead in urban soils from selected cities in a Central Region of the Philippines. Environ Sci & Pollut Res 13 (3) 177 – 183


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