POSTSCRIPT / October 8, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GI’s death to firm up US presence in South?

ABU ANGLE UNCONFIRMED: We are intrigued by remarks of US embassy spokesman Karen Kelly that they had no confirmation that those who exploded a bomb days ago in Zamboanga that killed one American soldier and wounded another GI were members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group.

Her statement slapped down the quick announcement of the Philippine military and the police that the culprits were Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Why were they so sure even before the completion of the investigation?

Kelly said that the Abu-angle was then still mere speculation and declined to go along by commenting on it. She did not say it, but among the angles playing in some minds is that the bombing could have been the handiwork of agents carrying out a plan to provoke the US into bolstering its military commitment in the South.

The angle on a possible police-military hand in the bomb attack is also pure speculation, and no proof of it has been offered at this point.

As if on cue, we are now seeing news analyses that the Americans have become more determined in helping fight terrorism in the country, particularly in the area of operation of the Abu Sayyaf.

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WHY NOT AIR POWER?: The government of this wind-tossed archipelago should take a hint from an old industrial giant that is turning to nature to power homes and lessen dependence on such fossil-fuel-based energy as coal.

An Associated Press report last week said London will provide 20 million pounds ($31.2 million) for building Britain’s first offshore wind farms that will generate enough energy to power 100,000 homes.

Sadly, our own Department of Energy is still clinging to traditional, dirty sources of power such as coal, crude oil, and diesel — hydrocarbons whose emissions have been found to be toxic and carcinogenic.

It is ironic that an industrialized Britain is harnessing nature’s forces to light up homes while a developing Philippines with vast natural sources of power — hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, and wind (with rainfall and strong winds half of the year) — relies on filthy and costly coal-fired plants for the bulk of its energy requirements.

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DIVERSIFIED MIX: Environmental and energy experts have vouched for the viability of tapping wind and solar power in the country, suggesting pilot projects for some wind-tossed and sun-soaked islands where conventional power facilities are not available.

Energy Secretary Vincent Perez said late last month that the “diversification” of the country’s energy mix is one of the government’s top concerns. But this plan put on the backburner “clean and renewable” sources.

“The objective is to diversify sources of energy — whether it is coal, natural gas, hydro, crude oil, geothermal or nuclear,” he said.

Roland S. Quilala, National Power Corp. officer-in-charge, chimed in: “We are now enjoying the benefits of shifting our power generation needs from being oil-dependent to a better mix with coal as lead alternative fuel.”

Coal-fired plants accounted for the most significant contribution to the power generation mix — about 40.02 percent — while oil-fired plant made up 11.75 percent as of July this year.

Natural sources contributed less than half of Napocor’s electricity output — geothermal at 27.23 percent and hydro-electric, 16.25 percent.

In fact, the DoE is even offering to buy more coal from Australia in exchange for that country buying more Philippines tropical fruits.

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OFFSHORE WIND FARMS: Under the British wind power initiative, Energy Minister Brian Wilson said funding for the project would be equally split between an offshore wind farm off the coast of North Wales and another off the coast of Norfolk in eastern England.

National Windpower plans to build 30 wind turbines to provide power for 50,000 homes, while the Powergen scheme in Norfolk will consist of 39 turbines, providing electricity for a similar number of houses.

“These developments are a major step forward for the UK offshore wind industry, and the clearest signal yet that UK manufacturing can play its part in the growing market for sustainable energy at home and abroad,” Wilson said. He has published guidelines for developers wanting to build wind farms.

In contrast, we continue to operate six coal-fired Napocor plants in Luzon and one in the Visayas generating 3,806 megawatts of electricity: Calaca 1 (300 mw) and Calaca 2 (300 mw) in Batangas: Pagbilao (764 mw); Masinloc (600 mw); Sual (1,294 mw); Quezon Power (433 mw); and Naga Coal (105 mw).

Calaca 1 and 2 in Batangas are just a few hours from Manila. Calaca 1 was commissioned in 1984 while Calaca 2 was commissioned in 1995. The Calaca plants have long been denounced by environmental groups for allegedly poisoning their host communities.

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SOLONS SUDDENLY QUIET: As expected, after their noisy declarations and press releases, several lawmakers who had claimed to be concerned about the deleterious effects of emissions of coal plants have suddenly fallen quiet although the problem has not abated.

We cannot let our attention lag in the campaign against the poisoning of vast segments of the population by air that has been made toxic and carcinogenic by emissions of motor vehicles and coal-fired plants.

Some pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulates may not be visible, but they are deadly. Carbon monoxide affects the nervous system and is dangerous particularly for people with weak hearts.

Nitrogen oxides react with other pollutants in the atmosphere, creating smog and acid rain. Sulfur dioxide is a leading cause of respiratory problems. Lead, which accumulates in the body, injures vital human organs and the brain.

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TINY BUT DEADLY: These invisible pollutants are all around us. Total suspended particulates in the air are of various sizes, and some may not be able to enter the human respiratory system.

But one particulate matter penetrates deep into the thoracic or lower regions of the respiratory tract and stay there, causing lung cancer and heart problems.

The air in Metro Manila that more than 10 million residents breathe day in and day out is packed with very fine, smaller-than-dust particles — each about 10 microns or one hundredth of a millimeter in diameter (compare with human hair which is about 70 microns). The thinnest speck — less than 2.5 microns — poses the gravest danger.

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STUDIES CONFIRM RISKS: The most glaring evidence to date of the threat to health from particulate emissions is based on a study, financed largely by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The project evaluated the impact of particles smaller than 2.5 microns on 500,000 adults in 90 cities across the US from 1962 to 1998.

Mathematical extrapolation based on individual risk factors such as age, smoking record, body mass, and diet was used. The results showed that “the number of deaths from lung cancer increases by 8 percent for every 10 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter.”

Risk estimates from bad air have varied in other studies, but the findings do not challenge the established correlation between air pollution and mortality rate.

Children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with heart and respiratory ailment are at the highest risk. Studies reveal that the impacts of haze and sooty air on human health are potentially incalculable — based on thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of hospital admissions, weeks of sick leaves, and impaired productivity among workers in urban areas due to pollution-related respiratory and heart diseases.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 8, 2002)

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