Friday, August 10, 2012

Floods and breast cancer

Update: Exactly a year after the floods of August 2012, flood waters have again hit the country, and the Department of Health still maintains that the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as breast cancer is in tobacco and alcohol intakes?

The Philippine Breast Cancer Network takes serious concern over the massive floods in our country the past four years: Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in September 2009,  Typhoon “Sendong” in December 2011 and the monsoon rains in early August 2012.

Acid water levels have most likely risen quickly because of the rains and the acid water has now affected wide areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao spreading into ground water that people in rural areas drink water from. The downpours diluted the concentration of heavy metals in mining, industrial and farming areas but they were not dissolved and have certainly contaminated water systems.
Residential, commercial and industrial wastewater contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as natural estrogen and alkylphenols, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, chlorinated solvents, industrial chemical waste, petroleum products and heavy metals. The floods have spread huge undetermined volumes of these toxic pollutants and contaminants including those known to cause cancer and birth defects especially mercury and dioxin from power plants, fuel depots, paper mills and many other industrial factories along Pasig River and Manila Bay.

Unique to the Philippines is the numerous junk shops where it would not be surprising to have significant amounts of PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyl) from drained fluids of used transformers and electric motors. Then there are the garbage landfills, notably Payatas and San Mateo whose tailings go straight down to the Marikina river system, and Smoky Mountain whose toxic solid waste have been permanently buried beneath former President Ramos’ flagship project, the 79 hectare Manila Harbour Centre.
In the highly urbanized industrial City of Iligan is where the National Power Corporation operates six hydro-electric power plants and where several heavy industries (steel, cement, chemical, refractory and food) have been operating since the 1970’s. There has already been an alarming number of breast cancer, leukemia and lung cancer in a city with a small density of less than 400 persons per square kilometer. Just like Manila Bay, Iligan Bay is as polluted. When the floods of "Sendong” struck in December 2011, the waterways have definitely become a serious environmental health hazard.
While “Ondoy” flooded Marikina City within 12 hours, the recent floods submerged the city for 3 days just three years later.  And what industries are in Marikina City aside from the shoe industry?  For starters - Fortune Tobacco, Armscor, Purefoods and Nestle. Despite their waste disposal systems – the floods had certainly overflowed their holding wastewater  ponds! Furthermore, all persistent organic pollutants in Payatas, San Mateo and Antipolo went down to this valley!

Our country will continue to experience calamities due to a multitude of socio-political-economic factors and it can only be hoped that present and future governance can act to limit if not contain the degree of damage to life and property. The Philippines has become very vulnerable to catastrophes. In fact, our country registered the highest increase in the incidence rate of breast cancer over the past 30 years worldwide. The recent flooding has again unleashed and exposed thousands of women to environmental toxins and carcinogens and this will be validated with the surge of breast cancer cases in the flood-stricken areas of the country at least five years from today.

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