POSTSCRIPT / November 2, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Was your long weekend wasted on a hectic sked?

THE long weekend should have afforded city dwellers a chance to hie off to the countryside to view the greenery and, hopefully, to recharge their lungs and brains with fresh air that has become a rare luxury.

Residents of Metro Manila who are doomed to die a slow death while an indifferent government watches should snatch every chance to escape the lethal air of the polluted metropolis.

If only for that, the holidays should have been a welcome respite, a breather, for city creatures with the means to run away from the decaying capital. Wouldn’t it be tragic then if the weekenders return home more haggard than refreshed?

And what about those who had nowhere to go?

* * *

A FILIPINO residing in Singapore has emailed Postscript to share information on a study of the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency on the use of common plants to fight pollution in and outside the home.

Reader Romarico Galvez was reacting to our item on the massive pollution that is slowly killing residents of Metro Manila and afflicting them with various allergies and debilitating diseases during that slow death.

We’ve been taught that trees and plants absorb noxious carbon mono/dioxide in the air while, in return, giving off enervating oxygen for us humans to breathe.

It would be wonderful indeed if some entity lists or even provides plants that could be reared in our yards and inside the house to absorb not only carbon dioxide but also pollutants and other dirt in the air.

Galvez sent a partial list of those plants used in the NASA study. Some of them (some paragraphs below) are indigenous to this country.

* * *

THE study by NASA has evolved a thriving business in the US. One of its active proponents is a Dr. Basil Wolverton, who used plants in spaceships and manned satellites to recycle the used air.

Wolverton, formerly a senior research scientist at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss., is also using plants to clean up polluted waters.

NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) have announced the findings of a two-year study that suggests a sophisticated pollution-absorbing device, the common indoor plant that provides a natural way of helping combat “sick building syndrome.”

* * *

NASA research has found that indoor plants are so efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air that some will be launched into space as part of the biological life support system on future orbiting space stations.

Philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos were found most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. Flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were rated superior in removing benzene. Other good performers are Dracaena Massangeana, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos.

“Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves,” Wolverton said. “But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors.”

“Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants,” he said. “A living air cleaner is created by combining activated carbon and a fan with a potted plant. The roots of the plant grow right in the carbon and slowly degrade the chemicals absorbed there,” Wolverton explains.

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SOME of the plants found most effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air are: Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Seifritzii), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Modestum), English Ivy (Hedera Helix), Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii), Janet Craig (Dracaena “Janet Craig”), Marginata (Dracaena Marginata), Mass cane/Corn Plant (Dracaena Massangeana), Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria Laurentii), Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa,” Warneckii (Dracaena “Warneckii”).

Should not the government look for other useful local plants, then list them for the public? Better still, since the government has been negligent in fighting pollution, it should make up by giving these plants for free to all interested households.

* * *

MEANWHILE, the refusal of Daniel D. Dingel to demonstrate his water-powered car in a supervised 1,000-km test run has fueled more speculations about his mostly unseen invention.

US-based environmental remediation geologist Manuel C. Diaz said Dingel is most probably using “steam reforming” and not electrolysis as is generally thought. He explains:

“Upon examining several water fuel patents here in the United States, the only explanation that would rationalize Mr. Dingel’s invention is the principle of steam reforming. Electrolysis process cannot produce the volume of hydrogen gas and oxygen gas required to run a four-cylinder car.

“However, steam reforming can generate enough hydrogen gas and oxygen gas judging from the size of his reactor.

“It is probable that what is inside Mr. Dingel’s reactor are nickel or platinum metal catalysts heated by the battery and also a heater to flash vaporize the water into steam. The superheated steam in contact with a hot metal catalyst will dissociate into its elemental hydrogen gas and oxygen gas.

“These are the gases that are being combusted in the engine cylinder. Chemical engineers, chemists and metallurgists call this steam reforming.

“Mr. Dingel’s discovery is not a fraud.

“I suggest that he start building a much bigger reactor to run a 20-megawatt electric generators so that Napocor and Meralco will become obsolete and of course he will give OPEC the run for its money.

“He should raise the money in the stock market. He should read the book of Bill Gates so that he will not lose control of his company.”

* * *

A NAUGHTY reader sent in a variation to the suggestion of Rey S. Guevara for testing in a garage Dingel’s invention mounted on his 1600-cc Toyota Corolla.

Arleen Azucena writing from a 3web.net address agrees that making the engine run in a closed-door garage continuously for six hours or more is the best test – but for a different reason.

She says: “If you challenge Dingel to stay inside the closed garage while the engine is running for more than six hours, and he is still alive after the test, well, what can you say except that the engine uses pure water! Otherwise, tepok na siya. Post mortem: Poisoning by carbon monoxide.”

On prodding of reader Luis Razon, Postscript had proposed a 1,000-km proving run on the belief that even if the car had a secret fuel tank, as some unbelievers suspect, the gasoline would run out in 1,000 kms. If the car really runs only on water, Dingel should not be afraid of demonstrating that in a public test run.

* * *

A CLARIFICATION is in order. We don’t have in mind a non-stop marathon. The car can run from Magallanes to Calamba on the South Luzon Expressway, pull over and be examined against a checklist.

The same lap will be repeated from Calamba back to Magallanes, where a similar pit stop is made. The stages are repeated, with reasonable stops for both man and machine – after all both of them are not brand-new anymore – as the need arises. At every stop, Dingel can jingle and take a bite.

The deadly shooters of Gen. Ping Lacson would be asked to escort the hydrocar and make sure not even a fly would alight on Dingel and his car. All throughout, nothing except certified pure water will be introduced into the vehicle.

A wrecker with spare parts, tires, batteries, brake fluid and whatever else might be needed (except gasoline) for repairs will be among the vehicles trailing the hydrocar.

If the car completes the 1,000 km run on nothing but water and will power, Dingel is good even for the Nobel prize!

So, sige na, sir, huwag matakot!

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 2, 1999)

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