The air in Metro Manila could be cancerous

A research study finds an alarming link between air pollution and breast cancer–especially among frequent commuters

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PHOTO BY ANDREW TADALAN / INQUIRER

It has been reported that the Philippines has one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in Asia.

A paper written in 2009 by a group led by Adriano Laudico of the Philippine General Hospital, and published in the Asian Pacific Journal for Cancer Prevention, confirmed that the Philippines has one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in Asia.

The paper also showed that breast cancer incidence in seven cities in Metro Manila was much higher than in 14 cities and municipalities in Rizal province.

As a result of this report, this author decided to revisit the two surveys we had conducted in 2001 and in 2009, which were intended to establish the concentration of certain airborne toxic substances in representative sites in Metro Manila, and to try to correlate the results with the findings in the above cited paper.

What are these invisible toxins?

The particles emitted by thousands of motor vehicles plying the streets of Metro Manila every day contribute to a large extent to the smoky haze of the metropolis.

Commuters using jeepneys, tricycles, motorcycles and other non-airconditioned modes of transport have taken for granted seeing black particles trapped in their nostrils when they clean their nose, and blackish shampoo suds when they wash their hair at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, more than the dust  trapped in our noses and hair, the pollutants that manage to reach our lungs pose a greater health risk.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are cancer-causing pollutants that are released by the combustion process in motor vehicles.

The high temperature and high pressure conditions inside vehicle engines are conducive to the production of PAHs. Some of them attach to dust particles and are usually safely captured by physical filters of our respiratory system. However, the rest stay in gaseous form and in very small particles and are able to reach the lungs, easily breaching the hairy nasal filters. Eventually, they also reach the circulatory system as well, through the alveoli of the lungs.

Destroying DNA structure

Why should we be concerned with PAHs?

Many studies have shown that PAHs such as Benz(a)anthracene, Benzo(b)fluoranthene, Dimethylbenzanthracene, Benzo(a)pyrene, Indeno(1,2,3–cd) pyrene and Dibenz(a,h)anthracene produce cancer in animals.

These PAHs form metabolites in the body that can directly destroy the normal structure of DNA and subsequently cause the formation of abnormal proteins and cancerous tumors.

In humans, these PAHs are considered most probable carcinogens based on the evidence of carcinogenicity in animals, and the probability that similarity in metabolic processes involved in dealing with PAHs exists in humans and animals.

The current assessment of the health significance of exposure to PAHs determines the health risk of exposure to the traditionally used marker substance Benzo(a)pyrene.

Studies by the World Health Organization show that there is a probability of one in 10,000 that a person will have cancer if he is exposed to ambient air with 1 nanogram (ng)/m3 Benzo(a)pyrene during his lifetime.

The relationship of exposure to PAHs and genetic damage in breast tissues and breast cancer was investigated by Frederica Perera and her group from Mailman School of Public Health in New York.

In a paper published in Carcinogenesis in 2000, the researchers found that the higher levels of DNA-PAH adducts in breast cancer tissues, reflecting that individual exposure and susceptibility to PAH may play a role in breast cancer. The possible modes of action of PAHs in breast cancer were investigated by Martina Pliskova and her group from the Veterinary Research Institute in the Czech Republic.

In their paper published in Toxicological Sciences in 2004, metabolites of Benzo(a)pyrene, and Benzo(a)anthracene were found to induce cell proliferation of breast cancer cells, both by activation of the estrogen receptor that expresses cell proliferation, and by causing genetic damage to the DNA damage repair checkpoints that eventually result in the proliferation of DNA-damaged cells.

In a 2001 survey of PAHs in ambient air particulates conducted by this author in four sites along the stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa), in two industrial sites and in three residential areas within Metro Manila, the concentrations of Benzo(a)pyrene (1.2-10.6 ng/m3) detected in all the sampling sites exceeded 1 ng/m3; this indicates that lifetime exposure to ambient air at most of the study sites could pose higher risk of more than one in 10,000 to cancer.

The additional potential toxicity from three other carcinogenic PAHs detected in these sites further increases the risk of the exposed population to cancer.

 

Continuously exposed

A survey of gaseous-form PAHs in ambient air in three residential villages in Metro Manila in 2009 showed that village residents are continuously exposed to PAHs that can pass the nasal filtering system and directly reach the circulatory system.

The residents are exposed to the combined concentration of the PAHs at 52-76 ng/m3 during the rainy season in August to October, and at 83-167 ng/m3 at the onset of the dry season in November to December (Santiago E. and Cayetano M, 2009, Atmospheric Environment 41, 438–47).

These gaseous PAHs have not been shown to directly cause mutations in animal studies, but have been implicated as cancer-promoting agents. PAHs can induce the production of some enzymes in receptor cells that promote the formation of free radicals and bioactive molecules in a living system.

In effect, the promoting agents induce the production of substances that can alter the normal expressions of some genes, which can lead to mutations.

Commuters and residents of Metro Manila breathe air with a toxin concentration that exposes them to many health risks, including cancer. Studies on breast cancer have provided evidence linking exposure to PAHs to genetic damage, cell proliferation and breast cancer. It is possible that long-term exposure to high concentrations of PAHs could be a common risk factor for the high incidence of breast cancer in Metro Manila.

The author hopes that the science-based information in this article will serve as a wake-up call for everyone to work together to reduce vehicular emissions of toxic PAHs in the Metro Manila environment, and to urge our health, economic and environment managers to give attention to management of the risk from involuntary exposure of the population to carcinogens in air.

Air pollution poses a present and real danger to the citizenry that cannot, in conscience, be ignored for long!

The author is a researcher at the Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI), University of the Philippines, Diliman, and a professorial lecturer on environmental toxicology at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology at the College of Science in UP Diliman. She is the head of the Chemical Research and Analytical Services Laboratory of NSRI. She may be reached at ecs@nsri.upd.edu.ph.

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  • Descarte5E

    I suggest you also check the clothes and especially the bras that women wear, have it check with one of the labs. The limit for the sum of 18 PAH is 10 ppm.

  • hustlergalore

    hahahaha… maraming bagay ang cancerous. tapos kung iisipin mo ang mga yan, parang ayaw mo ng kumilos.

  • hustlergalore

    best way to see the smog in metro manila is early morning.

    also, if the sky is clear and no smog and you are going towards metro manila via coastal road. you can see the whole city and the surrounding mountains of sierra madre. i had that chance, it was beautiful.

  • Richard Draucker

    The solution to Manila pollution and over population is very simple, build freight rail lines to the provinces. That will result in factories locating there. Factories will result in people moving there, and the people who already live there not coming to Manila for work every day.

    Nothing is faster or cheaper to build than rail lines for freight (not people). Less people, less cars, less transports (buses and jeepneys). All the pollution problems, from air quality to flooding, could be solved quickly and cheaply.

    Business will be very happy to move their factories to the provinces. Lower wages and cheaper building space. Everybody wins.

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    GATES OF HELL…

  • 33Sam

    DON’T JUST LOOK AT THE AIR WHICH BTW IS BEING SPRAYED WITH CHEMTRAILS. ALSO LOOK AT THE FOOD, THE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATION VARIETIES, THAT PURPOSELY PUT IN GENOCIDE CHEMICALS AND ADDITIVES IN THE EDIBLES, FOOD, CANDY, ICE CREAM, PHARMACEUTICALS, TOILETRIES. THE VACCINES TAKEN AS A CHILD, GMO, PLASTICS. ITS EVERYWHERE.

    BIG NAME COMPANIES HAVE CONSPIRED AND ARE USUALLY EUGENICISTS, LIKE JOHN KELLOGG OF KELLOGG’S CEREALS WERE FOUNDERS OF THE AMERICAN EUGENICS SOCIETY ALONG WITH MARGARET SANGER WHO FOUNDED PLANNED PARENTHOOD. KELLOGG WAS ALSO A FOUNDER OF THE RACE BETTERMENT FOUNDATION AND BECAME AN ACTIVE EUGENICS GROUP IN AMERICA, WHO BELIEVED THAT NON-WHITE IMMIGRANTS TO AMERICA WOULD DAMAGE THE GENE POOL. THESE FOOD MAGNATES BANNED TOGETHER AND WHILE MAKING MONEY OFF OF INNOCENT CONSUMERS, THEY HAVE MANIPULATED THE INGREDIENTS IN THEIR PRODUCTS TO MAKE PEOPLE SICK!!!

    RESEARCH IS SHOWING THAT CANCER IS IN THE HUMAN BODY, IT LAYS DORMANT MEANT TO TAKE OVER THE BODY AT DEATH. BUT EUGENICISTS HAVE DILIGENTLY WORKED TO MAKE CANCER ACTIVATE EARLIER BEFORE DEATH WHICH MAKES LIFESPANS SHORT, PAINFUL AND EXPENSIVE.

    RESEARCH IS OUT THERE. THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY ARE A BULL$H!T MONEY SUCKING ORGANIZATION. IF YOU NOTE THAT THEIR THRUST IS TO FIND THE CURE. THEY ARE NOT LOOKING FOR THE CAUSE. THEN MOST OF THE MONEY GOES INTO CERTAIN PEOPLE’S POCKETS BECAUSE TRUTH BE TOLD, THE ACS IS NOT LOOKING TO HELP PEOPLE IT IS THERE TO ROB PEOPLE OF THEIR MONEY WHILE PROMISING SOMETHING THEY NEVER INTEND TO PROVIDE. GLOBALIST EUGENICISTS CONSPIRED 100 YEARS AGO TO COMMIT GENOCIDE USING CANCER. NOW THEY HAVE FIGURED OUT A WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN THROUGH GMO FOODS AND BY PRODUCTS.

    CANCER SINCE 1500 WAS AT A STEADY OCCURENCE WITHIN A POPULATION. ONCE THE ATOMIC RADIATION STARTED TO HAPPEN THEN THE CANCER CLUSTERS EXPLODED.

    RADIATION THROUGH NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS THAT WITHIN THE U.S.A. AND OTHER NUCLEAR COUNTRIES, THE PLANTS ARE LEFT TO LEAK RADIATION WITH LEAK ALARMS DISARMED. THE RADIATION IS PURPOSELY BEING USED TO AFFECT THE POPULATIONS. GREAT THE PHILIPPINES DOES NOT HAVE A PLANT AND HOPEFULLY THERE ARE NO STOCKPILES OF RODS, SPENT OR UNSPENT THERE. BUT THE RADIATION FROM FUKUSHIMA IS ENOUGH TO AFFECT THE PACIFIC RIM.

    AND THERE ARE REPORTS THERE IS RADIATION MATERIALS BEING STORED IN THE PHILIPPINES SOMEWHERE WITH GOVERNMENT KNOWLEDGE!!!

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