This past month, for a few days at least during the Holy Week, including the day the transport strike was held, Metro Manila air was given the briefest of respites from the pollutants that are emitted daily by vehicles.

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Our home is not far from a major thoroughfare. While our little house may be ensconced inside a wee little subdivision, our roads are accessible to tricycles whose loud, sputtering engines just obliterate all sound as they pass (quite embarrassing when you’re on the phone, extremely annoying when watching a favorite tv program), leaving behind a cloud of smoke that hangs in the air for roughly a minute or so. Sadly, I notice many people have become accustomed to this, and a familiar sight would be people simply waving off the smoke and dust away from their faces. While others just resort to wrinkling their faces in disgust. I also see many who don’t even seem to mind, just stay where they are and let their kids do the same. No reminders to the children about covering their nose or moving away until the smoke clears. Though I am not sure if such gestures — waving away the smoke or covering one’s nose — even does much in terms of protecting one’s self from the toxic fumes.

My guess is, perhaps not much since Metro Manila was found as one of the Philippine cities that has the largest “health burden” due to air pollution. This is according to the Philippine Environment Monitor 2006 (PEM), a joint report of the World Bank and the DENR released late last year. Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as a result of constant exposure to poor air quality accounts for an estimate of 4,968 premature deaths in Metro Manila each year, the PEM report says. This isn’t any wonder since the report also mentions that particulates are at unhealthy levels in Metro Manila with Valenzuela and Quezon City having the highest health risks from particulate pollution.

While the Clean Air Act may have helped improve the air quality or at least lower the amount of the more toxic substances like lead in the air, as usual, stricter enforcement and better monitoring facilities for the agencies concerned remains our greater challenge.

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For globe trotters, here are some of the cities which landed in the most polluted list.

Statistics are available in the World Bank’s “The Little Green Data Book”.

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