Why Laguna Lake water isn't safe for people or fish

24 September 2011

A toxic, biochemical soup seasoned with more than a few pinches of heavy metals and enriched with aromatic flavors of wastewater from piggeries, poultry farms, homes and some factories. For texture, the sludge may have some chunks of common, non-biodegradeable solid waste like plastic and rubber. The Laguna Lake Development Authority’s (LLDA's) latest analyses of water samples from the lake and the rivers and streams flowing into it show low dissolved oxygen, high dissolved nitrogen, some concentrations of lead and cadmium, elevated levels of phosphates, oil and grease, and high levels of fecal coliforms. Simply put, Laguna Lake and its tributaries are heavily polluted and dying. Various studies over the years have ascertained that much of the pollution comes from the homes along the rivers and streams and significant contributors to the poisonous soup that flows to the lake are the backyard piggeries. LLDA water sampling data also have a significant hole. No tests are being done on waters flowing through the densely populated areas of Taguig City in Metro Manila and San Pedro, Binan and Sta. Rosa in Laguna. The same data also indicate that only the areas of East Bay, Central Bay, Northern West Bay and South Bay often have better water quality than the rest of the areas that the LLDA monitors. Commercial fishing proliferates in these sections of the lake. In contrast, the most toxic and foul are the rivers of Marikina, Mangangate, Tunasan, San Pedro, Cabuyao, San Cristobal, San Juan, Bay, Sta. Cruz, Pagsanjan, and Sapang Baho. These are 11 of the 15 monitoring points. The other rivers have slightly lower pollution levels, but are still heavily polluted nevertheless. Basic lab science In an interview with GMA News Online, recently-appointed Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Nereus Acosta, who is also concurrent member of the LLDA Board, said the science laboratory of the LLDA was one of the first offices he visited. “I went first to the laboratory. You can enforce better kung tututukan yung sampling ng water. Sana at least one week straight at surprise ang timing. Sa gabi at maulan doon sila nagre-release ng kanilang waste," Acosta said. LLDA water samples are taken monthly. Acosta learned that the lab had 20 plus personnel, with sufficient education and training, but whose capabilities are limited by lack of equipment, devices and supplies. The lab processes water samples within a week to 10 days. "Your basis for enforcement is the science. LLDA needs a permanent home, a building with a laboratory. Some laboratory equipment and devices are sensitive and do not function at optimum in temporary work spaces," Acosta said. Last year, former LLDA General Manager Edgardo Manda tried to give the agency its own facilities, but that project hit a snag in the form of an alleged corrupt deal. LLDA finances also caught President Benigno Aquino III’s attention. He ordered cancelled the P18.5 billion lake dredging project after determining that it did not effectively address the lake’s major problems. While the lake agency awaits permanent quarters and funds, the president’s environment adviser said he will work on having linkages with institutions like the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB), which has a School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM). He explained that crucial to the success of the MMDA are getting the metrics and mapping done. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. You can’t see what you can’t map," goes part of the Acosta mantra. Environment management and food safety In the supply chain management approach to food safety known as “farm to fork" —practiced widely in Europe, North America and industrialized parts of Asia— experts pay meticulous attention to environment management practices at food sources. According to a study entitled ‘A Survey of Waste Management Practices of Selected Swine and Poultry Farms in Laguna, Philippines’, most of the farms practice ‘effluent management’ or the flush their waste into the lake. The study was conducted in thirteen municipalities of Laguna Province by researchers of UPLB. They surveyed 80 smallholder and nine commercial swine farms with a total animal population of 15,917 pigs. Lakeshore municipalities that were included were Los Baños, Bay, Victoria, Sta. Cruz, Lumban, Pangil, Calamba, and Siniloan while inland municipalities included Nagcarlan, Rizal, Calauan, San Pablo, and Cavinti. According to the survey, 65% of smallholder, and 67% of commercial farms admitted to burying veterinary wastes and animal carcasses. “Buried waste upon decomposition breaks into harmful pollutants which could devoid the soil of nutrients necessary to support life, " Dr. Maria Victoria Espaldon said, one of the authors of the study, and the Dean of the UPLB’S SESAM. The inaccessibility of incineration, a technology capable of reducing waste by 80 to 90% has led a number of backyard farmers to open-air trash burning. “This practice endangers the public because of the particulate matter from biomass, and hazardous compounds released from open-burning of plastics and refuse," Espaldon explained. “It’s important that we limit the possibility of unearthing the carcass, flies and maggots feeding on it, and spreading diseases to both humans and animals," Espaldon added. — TJD, GMA News