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John Mervin L.

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Distribution of Lead in Major Thoroughfares in Manila Popularized Technical Article

Distribution of Airborne Lead in Metro Manila, Philippines


By Judilyn N. Solidum
Popularized by JM Embate

Before, the world is soil and water. Today, the world is soil, water, and lead.

Lead, it seems, is everywhere. This heavy metal element (Pb) is seen in pipes, x-rays, and

batteries. However useful they may be, lead also poses big threats if they continue to grow in the

environment. For instance, lead accumulated in a human body causes anemia (blood deficiency),

paralysis (loss of movement), decrease in intelligence, and poor memory.

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Lead: What goes around comes around

Where do these lead particles come from? Aside from the natural lead in Earth’s crust and the

lead coming out of lead producing factories, lead discharge is rampant today among the thick

smokes emitting from vehicles. This makes the environment, especially in urban areas, prone to

lead exposure; such as in the case of Metro Manila.

Lead in the environment is recycled. Lead from the soil is transported into surface waters during

rain or when a heavy wind blows. This water surface will then evaporate and become clouds.

Once these clouds become heavy, they will cause rain. This lead-containing rain will be

deposited to the soil again, and the cycle goes on forever. Lead might be deposited in soils with

grasses of vegetations eaten by livestock and humans. Once they eat, inhale, or have a skin

contact with lead, they will be affected. Since they are capable of being affected with this

poisonous metal, plants, animals and humans could be bioindicators of lead.

Actually, lead’s severity of contamination in the environment can be verified by biologic

monitors. Bioindicators or monitors are living things capable of determining and measuring lead

presence. Since these biologic indicators monitor the presence of lead, they can also indicate how

to remove them.

“LEADing” diseases

How detrimental is lead to animals and humans? For one, lead interferes in the body’s heme

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synthesis. Suppose making a delicious cup of coffee. You would not add pepper in your mix,

right? That’s what happens in body’s heme synthesis with the interference of lead. Heme, an

iron-containing molecule in our body, interacts with protein in order to control and regulate our

body processes like sleep-wake cycle, weight-gain, nutrient absorption, and fat storage. In the

presence of lead, your sleep will be irregular, or you might gain a lot of weight, but feeling a lot

weaker.

Lead also damages one’s nervous system. It is like verbally instructing a deaf man to lend you a

pencil― BUT he would never hear you. Similarly, nerves find it hard to understand the

messages dictated by the brain.

The kidneys and cardiovascular systems (heart and blood vessels) are affected by this heavy

metal as well. The more disturbing fact is that lead is also somehow linked to cancer-producing

cells and its spread inside the body.

Science vs. Lead: How we fight back

Although, lead in the gasoline used by vehicles has been banned sometime in April 2000 in

accordance to president Fidel V. Ramos’ Clean Air Act of 1999, the effects of lead are still and

will still be evident in the environment. Because lead has a long time to decay and lose its

radiation, the adverse effects of lead will still remain for a longer period of time.

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For this reason, this study was conducted to determine the distribution of airborne lead, or lead

carried by the air, in Metro Manila. The study probed for a series of questions in order to know

the occurrence of airborne lead to major streets in the metropolitan.

The study focused on three areas in Metro Manila: one is from Manila City Hall to Padre Faura;

the other one is from U.N. to Pedro Gil (F.B. Harrison), and lastly; from Harrison Plaza to

Baclaran. The study aimed to know the relationship of lead levels in soil, human blood, plants

and rainwater in these areas. Possible plant bioindicators were also assessed.

To identify plant bioindicator in the area of study, one kilogram leaves of plants lined in the three

streets were collected and studied. Soil and rainwater samples from the three areas specified are

also collected to determine the distribution of airborne lead. Moreover, eleven street workers

along the streets were also evaluated through interview and the 10 ml of blood samples taken

from them.

All samples were analyzed at the UPLB Institute of Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry Laboratory

using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS). AAS identifies the presence of metals in the

samples by analyzing the spectrum or the distribution of colored light produced when the

substance turns to gas.

Among all the plant species analyzed, five showed very high lead levels in leaves, namely,

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Hosta, Narra, Tamarind, Song of India and Ti. The plant with lowest lead is the Ti tree from the

U.N. to Pedro Gil area (6.64 mg/kg), while the Hosta plant found in the same area has the highest

lead content (19.44 mg/kg). Through statistical analysis, it was find out that there is a significant

relationship among the levels of lead in these five plants.

It was also evident in the study that the sample soil has been greatly contaminated, as the soil is

found out to be the deposition site for lead. Soil lead levels in the specified streets recorded high

lead concentrations with the range of 123.97 to 183.74ug/g. Aside from this, concentration of

lead in the atmosphere was observed during the study. Rainwater collected during the first heavy

rainfall after the summer of 2005 showed lead concentration from 0.95 to 1.65mg/L.

If these soils and rainwater are human beings, you can just imagine how poisoned they must be.

The findings of this study showed that levels of lead in soils and rainwater are related with each

other. Through statistical analysis, the study found out a positive, significant mutual relationship

among lead levels in plants, lead levels in soil, and lead levels in rainwater. Plants and soil, as

sites of lead accumulation, therefore, are clear sources of lead in the environment at present.

Additionally, human blood samples are also assessed. Based on the interview, the respondents all

agreed to be experiencing respiratory problems. But out of the eleven volunteers, only two

showed obvious levels of lead in blood. This finding might be caused by the decrease of blood

lead levels due to the banned lead in vehicular gasoline.

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These findings are compared to the findings from ten other subject volunteers in Molino, Bacoor,

Cavite― an area with little air pollution. These non-Manila respondents normally complain of

cough, colds and fevers, with little instances of being sick. In comparison to the blood samples in

Manila, no obvious lead levels among their bloods were found.

“UN-LEADing” the way to a better world

Based in the analysis, there is a significant relationship between lead levels in plants and lead

levels in human blood (street worker/people). This is so to say that the five identified plant

bioindicators of lead in Manila will indirectly measure the amount of lead in a man’s blood along

the same areas. Lead levels in blood also showed significant relationship to both lead levels in

soil and rainwater. As a result, the deposited lead levels in soil and rainwater can also measure

the levels of lead in human blood. These findings just reiterate how everything and everyone in

the environment are interconnected and affecting each other. Everything simply functions like a

chain, indeed.

This study takes one step in addressing lead problems in the country, especially in Metro Manila.

But we should not stop here. Further study must be conducted about the plant bioindicators.

These bioindicators are recommended to be planted along major streets in Manila since they may

clean the air in the city. It is also recommended to have continuous public health monitoring and

to disseminate the information about the danger in lead exposure to people. All of these are

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essential in order to avoid another victim of this culprit, and to salvage the heart of our country

from its imminent degradation. We should act now before its too late, preventing this toxic lead

to take over our remaining hope for a better and restored world.

Before the world is soil and water; today, the world is soil, water, and lead. So, what comes

next?

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