Manila Bay’s White Sand: Is it worth the expense of our health?

Written by Ash Sanchez
Illustration by Paolo Paramio
Published 2020 December 11

The White Sand in Manila Bay, which opened in late September 2020 has become an issue for the Filipinos since then. Some Filipinos have always wondered how life would be if the dolomite sand project on the Manila Bay Rehabilitation did not push through in the middle of the pandemic. Have you also?

The government is spending P389 million to fulfill their rehabilitation project that was led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on January 27, 2019. Primarily focusing on the bay’s clean-up, rehabilitation, restoration, and preservation, it was a shock for many that sand was transferred to Manila. The particular sand used is from Alcoy town, Cebu, and is made from crushed dolomite, a sedimentary rock which is used as an aggregate in construction materials, a manufacturer for cement and bricks, and a neutralizer for acids. On September 19-20, 2020, this attraction temporarily opened for public viewing, drew people into visiting and seeing it in real life. However, despite some being in awe about the beauty that they perceived, criticisms have arisen all over social media—targeting dolomite’s harmful effects on humans and the environment.

Effects of Dolomite on Humans

Studies have shown how dolomite can significantly affect respiratory diseases (and other health hazards) if exposed longer and directly, especially in high concentrations of the chemical in the air, as it contains heavy metals like aluminum, lead, nickel, and mercury [1]. Some health implications that may be included here are shortness of breath, discomfort in breathing, chest pain, and coughing]. Although DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu stated that the dolomite sand is deemed to be “safe” and is “bigger than dust”, firms such as the Lehigh Hanston Inc. shows a Safety Data Sheet of Dolomite, which labels Dolomite to be Category 1A in terms of Carcinogenicity (known to have carcinogenic potential for humans) and Level 2 of Specific Organ Toxicity (presumed to have the potential to be harmful to humans in a single exposure) [2].
Effects of Dolomite on the Environment

On September 30, 2020, The UP Marine Science Institute released a statement regarding the dolomite sand in Manila Bay, and it showed how the sand does not fix the environmental problems in Manila Bay. They said that the sand “cannot serve to anchor the loss of beach sand, nor serve as a replacement for eroded sediments.” Knowing how storms are common in the area of the bay, foreign sediments may spread out from the shore. This may impose harmful effects on marine life, such as causing disturbance to marine animals and plants, lowering seawater oxygen levels, and blocking access to sunlight [3]. If before, the polluted waters have caused deterioration, this ‘white sand’ just adds to the problem. Worse, as the sand is washed off in the long run, its continuous replacement will definitely be more expensive than expected.

Better Alternatives

Groups such as Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) said that the “artificial rehabilitation [focuses] on aesthetic appearance rather than addressing the environmental degradation problems.” This means to say that the sand’s placement doesn’t target its intended purpose. Plans and solutions always have second and third alternatives. What could have been done instead of splurging P389 million on something temporary?

Scientists from the University of the Philippines have proposed for the government to plant and rehabilitate mangrove habitats in the area, as this is more cost-efficient and has healthier effects for the bay’s biodiversity. According to the Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy’s publication, mangroves may lessen the coastal degradation that happens in shorelines. In addition, the dense roots of mangroves also “help bind and build soils,” therefore, reduces possible erosion. These mangroves also benefit the whole marine environment as it reduces wave and storm damage and keeps up with sea level rise.

Another better alternative that could have been done was to direct the help toward the sewage problems and water quality in Manila Bay, because this solution is more long-term than the dolomite sand that was placed. Programs such as the Manila Bay Clean Up Program should have been given more light, especially that Clean Up Drives are held annually in the bay. If this program is continued and done at least for more times in a year, then it is definitely probable to have benefited the bay better. Furthermore, the UP Institute of Biology states that the programs held should have been more scientifically-based and that it should have “targeted the recovery of biological functions of marine life.”

The Dolomite Sand in Manila Bay has been a controversial issue in the Philippines ever since it aired on news. Its effects on the ecosystem is a scare, especially since its approval was not looked at in the long run. Civil society groups, environmentalists and researchers, and netizens have criticized its implementation, and proposed better solutions (e.g., planting mangroves and focusing on the bay’s clean up program) for Manila Bay’s rehabilitation. However, it is already there; placed on the shore. The question imposed now is, how long will this dolomite sand last, and how will this benefit Filipinos?

References

  1. Neghab M, Abedini R, Soltanzadeh A, Kashkooli A, Ghayoomi S M A. Respiratory disorders associated with heavy inhalation exposure to dolomite dust. [Internet]. 2012. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482327/
  2. Safety Data Sheet Dolomite [Internet]. Lehighhanson.com. 2018. Available from https://www.lehighhanson.com/docs/default-source/safety-data-sheets/sds-dolomite.pdf?sfvrsn=66124d22_4
  3. Marine Science Institute [Internet]. Msi.upd.edu.ph. 2020. Available from: http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/home-1
  4. Environmental Impacts of Dolomite Sand on the Marine Environment of Manila Bay (Understanding the Ecology and Hydrology of Manila Bay) [Internet]. Iesm.science.upd.edu.ph. 2020. Available from: https://iesm.science.upd.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Manila-Bay-Statement_IESM_29Spe20-final.pdf
  5. Mangroves for Coastal Defence [Internet]. nature.org. 2014. Available from: https://www.nature.org/media/oceansandcoasts/mangroves-for-coastal-defence.pdf

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