NONGOVERNMENTAL organizations that are campaigning to close down
operations at the oil depot in Manila's Pandacan area say there is a
high concentration of benzene, said to be a cancer-causing hydrocarbon
compound, in the vicinity of the fuel facility.
A Pilipinas Shell executive said Shell and the other oil companies
were complying with requirements of the Clean Air Act in reducing the
benzene content of gasoline products. Officials of the United Front to
Oust the Oil Depot and the Manila chapter of the Akbayan Citizens
Action Party said results of laboratory tests conducted by the
Washington-based Columbia Analytical Services Inc. last month showed
9.1 micrograms per cubic meter of benzene in two air samples taken from
the communities surrounding the Pandacan depot.
This was well above the "levels of concern" observed by various
government and private environment groups in the United States, said
Francesca Francia of the NGO called Global Community Monitoring (GCM).
Francia said the ill effects of the depot on the health of Pandacan
residents should convince local and national governments to phase out
the facility, which is used by the three major oil companies in the
Philippines -- Shell, Caltex Philippines, and Petron Corp.
She said the results of the air sample tests showed a "connection
between the symptoms (displayed by many Pandacan residents) and the
Roberto Kanapi, Pilipinas Shell Petroleum's general manager for
external affairs, in a phone interview declined to comment on the
findings but said Shell was willing to meet with Global Community
Monitor to learn how the study was made.
"We would want to know what process was used and what the bases were
for the report so that we could correlate or verify (the results)," he
He added that Shell had been complying with the Clean Air Act
requirement for reduction of the benzene content of gasoline products
since the start of the year.
The law mandates that all gasoline products sold and used in the
country starting Jan. 1 have a maximum benzene content of two percent
by volume, from a previous maximum of four percent.
According to the US National Library for Medicine Toxicology Data
Network, benzene "is known to be one of the most carcinogenic
substances in the world."
Long-term exposure to benzene is known to cause cancer of the lung,
liver, ovary, breast and stomach, the NGOs said. Benzene targets blood
and related systems, hitting blood and bone marrow cells the hardest.
Benzene also causes numerous blood-related disorders, known to cripple the nervous, respiratory and immune systems.
A major concern is the strong relationship between benzene and
leukemia. It is widely believed that benzene's toxicity stems from its
effects on DNA during cellular reproduction.
Francia said the findings on the toxic emissions would be compared
with effects on the health of many Pandacan residents that the GCM
"A survey will be done to more concretely document the effects of the depot on residents' health," she said.
Akbayan-Manila's Dick Gabac told the Inquirer that they would appeal
to the health and environment departments to conduct an investigation
and independently validate the Columbia findings.
Gabac said the lab results may explain why many residents in the
district, especially those living near the depot, are getting sick.
He said they are planning to send another air sample to the US for additional testing.
Aside from benzene, the Columbia research group also found various
chemicals in the air samples, such as ethanol (90/ug/m3), toluene (37
ug/m3), 2-butanone (12 ug/m3), m-xylene (12 ug/m3), p-xylene (12 ug/m3)
and o-xylene (5.1 ug/m3).
The values, however, are not above any levels of concern.
The samples were taken last January using so-called "air testing buckets" approved by the US EPA.
GCM, a California-based international NGO out to promote health and
environment interests, commissioned the Columbia tests in coordination
with the United Front to Oust the Oil Depot and the Akbayan Citizens
Action Party's Manila chapter.
Francia, GCM's Asia coordinator, compared the Pandacan benzene level to allowable standards in the US.
The US Environmental Protection Agency sees no health effects occurring below a benzene content of 0.250 ug/m3 of air.
The Texas Natural Conservation Commission sees no long-term health
effects below an average benzene exposure level of 3.00 ug/m3 within 24
The North Carolina Annual Ambient Air Standard is 0.120 ug/m3.
Concentrations of benzene above this level for over a period of one
year are illegal in that state.
The American Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sees "no
appreciable risk of non-cancer health effects" from being exposed to
concentrations up to 4.70 ug/m3 between two weeks and one year,
according to the NGOs.
Lawyer Vladimir Cabigao, convenor of the NGO called UFO-OD, said the
lab findings could be used in filing damage suits against the three oil
He called on the Manila city government to implement the ordinance shutting down the depot.
UFO-OD argues that the oil depot is a potential terrorist target and a fire hazard.
Officials of the oil companies say closure of the depot while a war
raged in Iraq would lead to a fuel shortage and oil price hikes in the
"The oil companies cannot use war as an excuse because war is a
temporary inconvenience," Cabigao told the Inquirer. "The long-term
health risks should now be given focus."