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Fighting Air Pollution in Metro-Manila Philippines

Air pollution is one of the most pressing challenges that Metro-Manila is facing today...

Statement of the Issue

Air pollution is one of the most pressing challenges that Metro-Manila is facing today. According to the report released by the Department of Environment and Natural  Resources’ Environment and Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), the air quality situation in the National Capital Region in the first quarter of 2015 was even worse than that of the end of 2014 (as cited in Metro-Manila’s Air…, 2015). While the maximum safe level of total suspended particulates (TSP) of air pollutant concentration was 90 micrograms per normal cubic meter (ug/NCM), monitoring data revealed that the total TSP reached 130 ug/NCM, higher than the 106 per normal cubic meter recorded at the end of 2014.  

The World Health Organization 2006 Report showed that, pollution, especially from airborne particulate matter (PM), has serious adverse health effects which are being experienced by urban populations in both developed and developing countries, as is the case in Metro-Manila. It is the population of Metro-Manila who therefore bear the burden of both the morbidity and mortality caused by exposure to particulate matter. Air pollution affects the health of the most vulnerable, who are the women, children and the older adults. 

Motor vehicles or transport have been found to be the major cause to elevated fine PM10 and PM2.5 in Metro-Manila (Simpas & Cruz, 2014). Thus, effective implementation of vehicle inspection and maintenance, improvement and expansion of the public transport system, better traffic management, together with the establishment of PM2.5 guideline values and monitoring stations, promotion of 
public awareness and participation are needed to facilitate the effort to control pollutant emissions in Metro-Manila.

Nature and Magnitude of the Problem

Air pollution may be caused by natural or human-made sources. Sources of air pollution may be classified into stationary, mobile and area. Particulates are pollutants that  are airborne particles or aerosols that are less than 100 micrometers. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (2016), some of these particles are released directly from a specific source, while others are formed by means of complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere.  Coarse dust particles or PM10 are about 2.5-10 micrometers in diameter and sources of these may include the crushing or grinding operations and dust caused by moving vehicles on the road. On the other hand, fine particles (PM 2.5) are smaller in diameter and are produced from all types of combustion such as forest fires, agricultural burning, motor vehicles and some industrial processes. 

The WHO (2005) report showed that particulate matter pollution continues to pose a significant threat to health worldwide. Based on the assessment of the burden of ailments induced by air pollution, about two million premature deaths each year are caused by the effects of urban outdoor and indoor air pollution. And more than fifty percent of this disease burden is borne by the population of developing countries. (WHO, 2005).  The extension of the health effects caused by the exposure to particulate matter is broad. However, a large number of studies demonstrated that these health effects are predominantly related to respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Studies also indicated that the risk for various outcomes has been shown to augment with exposure and there is little evidence that may suggest a threshold below which no adverse health effects would be anticipated.  

In the Philippine context, the DENR-Report (2012) underscored that there are limited studies made by various organizations that delved into the relationship between health and air pollution.  However, data from the Philippine Health Statistics indicated that 4 out of 10 leading causes of morbidity in 2008 was attributed to air pollution (DENR-EMB, 2012), some of these causes were acute respiratory infection, acute lower respiratory tract infection, pneumonia, bronchitis and heart diseases.  In 2010, 1,948 or 17 percent cases, and 1,561 deaths out of 11,458 cases and 9,184 deaths from all medical causes were attributed by the Philippine Cancer Society to air pollution. 

The EMB Regional offices are tasked to routinely monitor the air quality in Metro-Manila. Aside from the EMB Regional offices, some cities also conduct their own air quality monitoring, which is mostly funded by international projects or city funds. In Metro-Manila, the monitoring station in Caloocan recorded the highest level of PM10 at 167 ug/NM3. Another station with highest levels of PM10 is at MRT-Pasay-Taft, which registered in 2010 an annual mean of 130 ug/Nm3. In 2014, monitoring data showed that TSP levels have exceeded the annual National Ambient Air Quality Guideline Value while PM2.5 levels have exceeded the WHO annual and daily guideline values (Villarin et al., 2014). Mobile sources like motor vehicles and transport were found to be the major cause of elevated PM emissions in Metro-Manila (Simpas, Lorenzo & Cruz, 2014).   Similarly, the DENR-EMB Report (2012) indicated that despite the continuous improvement of fuel and compliance of oil companies with fuel standards, air quality in major cities remain poor, possibly due to the poor maintenance of vehicles, overloading, traffic congestion, that may lead to increased pollutant emissions. 

Affected Population

The most populated and dense cities are located in Metro-Manila.  The residents in Metro-Manila, therefore, bear the majority of the burden of both morbidity and mortality caused by exposure to air  pollution. Air pollution affects the health of the most vulnerable populations, who are mostly women, children and the older adults.

The Social and Economic Effects of Air Pollution

The social effects of air pollution in Metro-Manila are illustrated by the poor health of the vulnerable population, who are the women, children and the older adults residing in the affected areas.  The DENR-EMB report (2012) indicated that the total direct costs of the effects of exceeding particulate matter value alone on respiratory health amounted to PHP 368.8 million and PHP 400 million in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Air pollution, together with poor sanitation and water pollution contributed to about 22% of reported cases of diseases and 6% of deaths.  Furthermore, it also cost about PHP 14 billion per year in lost income and medical expenses in the country. 

Current Regulations and Policies

Several steps have been taken concerning air quality management in Metro-Manila. Some of these include measures to improve fuel quality such as the phasing-out of leaded gasoline in January 2001; setting of emission standards for mobile and stationary sources of air pollution; the completion of the MRT construction along EDSA and the implementation of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Unified Vehicle reduction Program along main thoroughfares (color coding); intensified anti-smoking belching operations by the MMDA (2000-2002), the Smoke Free EDSA (Oct. 2003), and intensified stack emission testing program of industrial sources or facilities within the Metro-Manila airshed.  Yet, there are still several measures to be done to foster progress in air quality control (DENR-EMB Report, 2012; Villarin et al., 2014).

Suggested Priority Actions

The choice of indicator to measure air quality requires serious consideration. Currently, in most monitoring stations in Metro-Manila, data are based on measurement of PM10 emissions, as opposed to other PM sizes. Since both coarse dust particles PM10 and fine particles PM2.5 are found to have health effects in urban environments, there is the need to establish PM 2.5 guideline values and install the appropriate number of monitoring stations that cover the Metro-Manila area.

 Motor vehicles and transport are considered the major cause of elevated PM emissions in Metro Manila. According to data from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) the total number of registered vehicles in 2010 reached 6,849,784. From 200o to 2010,  a growth rate of 80.4 percent has been registered. With the most recent annual vehicle growth rate of 6,75% from 2009-2010 (as cited in DENR-EMB Report, 2012). With this alarming increase in the number of private vehicles, emission of pollutants is likely to expand too.  There is therefore the need to redefine the current public transport system, promoting alternative means of transport system in the Metro-Manila area. Furthermore, there is the need to establish a more effective implementation of vehicle inspection, maintenance and compliance to emission standards. Strategic programs should be conducted to educate bus operators, drivers and mechanics on the need of appropriate preventive maintenance processes to reduce pollutant emissions.  

Public awareness and  participation are needed to address the challenge of  air pollution in Metro Manila. Although it is the government and local government units (LGUs) who have the responsibility to select and develop the right policies to monitor air quality management,, through the use of information and communication technologies, knowledge and awareness of the public and all stakeholders on the impact of air pollution on health and well being can be enhanced.  Thus, public awareness, participation and understanding on the need for an environmentally sustainable transport system can positively contribute to better pollutant emission management.  


Bautista VII, A.T., Pabroa, P. C.B.,, F.L., Santos, F.L., Racho, JM.D., & Quirit, L.L. (2014). 
Carbonaceous particulate matter characterization in an urban and a rural site in the Philippines. In ScienceDirect, 5(2):245-252. doi: 10.5094/APR.2014.030

Department of Environment and Natural  Resources’ Environment and Management Bureau 
[DENR-EMB]. (2012).  National Air Quality Status Report 2010-2011. Retrieved from

Metro Manila’s Air Quality Even Worse This Year - Data. (2015). In GMA News Online. 
Retrieved from

Simpas, J., Lorenzo, G., & Cruz, M.T. (2014). Monitoring particulate matter levels and 
composition for source apportionment study in Metro Manila, Philippines. In Kim Oanh, N.T (Editor) Improving Air Quality in Asian Developing Countries: Compilation of Research Findings, NARENCA. In Manila Observatory. Retrieved from

US EPA. (2016). Particulate matter: Health. Retrieved from

Villarin, J.T., Simpas, J., Lorenzo, G., & Cruz, M.T., (2014). Air quality in Metro Manila, 
Philippines. In Kim Oanh, N.T (Editor) Improving Air Quality in Asian Developing Countries: Compilation of Research Findings, NARENCA. In Manila Observatory
Retrieved from

World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. (2005).  Air quality guidelines:
Global update 2005: Particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Retrieved from WHO World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. (2005).  Air quality guidelines: Global update 2005: Particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Retrieved from


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