Dust It Off: Manila Bay’s ‘white sand’ teems with respiratory risks, warns Health Dep’t

DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda oversees the ‘white sand’ dumping on Manila Bay <i>Photo: Benny Antiporda / FB</i>
DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda oversees the ‘white sand’ dumping on Manila Bay Photo: Benny Antiporda / FB

Those crushed dolomite rocks that were dumped on Manila Bay’s shoreline to give it a “white sand” facelift pose several respiratory hazards, the Department of Health warned yesterday.

Dolomite, it’s a form of a rock. There are studies which say that if this is inhaled, it can draw adverse reactions, respiratory mainly…we are looking at its effects, but several studies and medical literature say dolomite dust when it aerosolizes with the air can cause respiratory issues and effects,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing in English and Filipino.

The official added that while it is unlikely for people to get respiratory problems during a single visit to Manila Bay, people headed there are advised to mask up.

“We just have to implement the minimum health standards so that we can steer clear from any effects of this dolomite dumped in Manila Bay. So when you go to Manila Bay to have your R&R. When you’re wearing your mask, this inhalation can be prevented also,” she said.

Apart from respiratory issues, Vergeire added that dolomite could also cause eye irritation and pose gastrointestinal discomfort when ingested.

“When you get it in your eye, it will cause a little irritation and you just have to dust it with water…when ingested, it can have discomfort in our gastrointestinal system. [People] will experience pain in the stomach and diarrhea,” Vergeire said.

Read: ‘Completely absurd’: Pinoys blast gov’t for dumping white sand on Manila Bay

Meanwhile, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Benny Antiporda, in apparent clap back to Vergeire’s warning, last night posted a statement in which he claimed that dolomite was “relatively harmless.” 

Antiporda cited The Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, which conducted a 2012 study on some 39 able-bodied construction workers heavily exposed to dolomite dust. Its findings showed that it did not detect lung diseases in the exposed employees’ X-rays. However, the journal stated that “while these data cast doubt on the notion that dolomite is a harmless chemical, they provide evidence in favour of the proposition that exposure to high atmospheric concentrations of this compound is likely to be associated with respiratory symptoms.”

The study was also conducted on “healthy individuals” and did not test for dolomite’s likelihood of causing cancer. Several construction sites equip workers handling the material with protective gear, and have  flagged dolomite as carcinogenic in prolonged, repeated exposures.


Posted by Benny Antiporda on Monday, September 7, 2020

Antiporda and the DENR last week drew massive flak from several groups, politicians, and Filipinos online who called out the agency for focusing on the “external beautification” of the notoriously polluted Pasay city bay.

The government intends to fill 500 meters of the Bay’s naturally gray shoreline as part of a rehabilitation program that started in January 2017. The project costs at least PHP397 million (US$8 million), according to the Department of Public Works and Highways, an amount which many believe should have been used to help Filipinos suffering through the pandemic.

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