'Blue babies' cry for clean water at the DENR

Greenpeace demands clean water for all

Feature story - November 27, 2007
Greenpeace water patrol activists deposited thirty ‘blue babies’ at the doorsteps of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to highlight the urgency of protecting the country’s dwindling clean water resources from continuing toxics pollution.

A Greenpeace volunteer holds a "blue baby" doll in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in protest of the dwindling clean water resources of the Philippines.The Blue baby dolls represent the "Blue baby Syndrome" or methemoglobinemia,a fatal disease which occurs in infants who ingest nitrates-polluted water associated with excessive fertilizer use.

The baby dolls were painted blue to represent 'blue baby syndrome' or methemoglobinemia, a fatal disease which occurs in infants who ingest nitrates-polluted water associated with excessive fertilizer use. The environment group is demanding that the government uphold the right to clean water, following findings that freshwater resources in parts of the country are contaminated with toxic pollutants from both industrial and agricultural sources.

Last week,  Greenpeace revealed that nitrates from excessive fertilizer use have contaminated groundwater used for drinking in major agricultural areas in Benguet and Bulacan. Aside from blue baby syndrome, nitrates-laden water also presents serious health implications including various types of cancer.

As part of the activity, Greenpeace asked the office of DENR Secretary Lito Atienza to receive a blue baby doll wearing a bib with the words "Clean water for me" as a visual reminder of the grave impacts of polluted water on human health. The "blue baby"  was accompanied by a letter asking the government agency to disclose what steps it has so far undertaken to ensure that the country's freshwater supply is free of toxics pollutants.

"Pollution of freshwater resources is completely unacceptable and must never be a 'reality' that people have to endure. People should not have to live with harmful substances in their water supply. The government must protect and ensure access and right to clean water," said Greenpeace campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

Greenpeace has been alerting the government on the sorry state of freshwater resources in the country. In the past several months the group has highlighted poisonous heavy metal contaminants in Marilao River in Bulacan, and carcinogenic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in groundwater used by households around Cavite Export Processing Zone, a busy electronics manufacturing hub. Levels of lead content in Marilao River, and VOC content in Cavite's groundwater are alarmingly high, and pose definite dangers to human health.

With dirty, polluted water come increasing cases of water borne diseases as well as other health deficits caused by chemical pollution. In 1992, the World Health Organization pegged the number of infant deaths per year from exposure to contaminated waters at 500,000 in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, according to the World Bank's Philippine Environment Monitor 2006, more than 15 percent of the reported diseases and nearly 6,000 premature deaths annually are related to exposure to water pollution and poor sanitation and hygiene. Treatment and lost incomes from these diseases is estimated at PHP 6.7 billion pesos per year.

"Pollution of freshwater resources is completely unacceptable and must never be a 'reality' that people have to endure. People should not have to live with harmful substances in their water supply. The government must protect and ensure access and right to clean water."

Daniel Ocampo

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigner

"Protecting water quality must begin at the sources of pollution. To be able to effectively address this problem, we would like to see the government invest more resources and efforts in the areas of pollution prevention and clean production. The lackadaisical manner by which the government monitors and enforces pollution laws will not be able to reverse these destructive trends," said campaigner Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

"In the case of nitrates pollution, the DENR must work with the Department of Agriculture to implement stronger measures to protect our groundwater from pollution from agricultural chemicals, beginning with a serious reduction of pesticide and chemical fertilizer inputs used in farming," added.

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