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Science-based response to the oil spill

September 11, 2006

AS early as August 10, a day before MT Solar 1 sank and spilled oil in the western part of the Panay strait or Guimaras, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been in the forefront of providing its usual services, particularly on weather conditions through the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa). It issued an initial gale warning due to southwest monsoon surge on that day and on August 11, the day MT Solar 1 sank.

To date, 96.6 percent of the total 220-kilometer coastline of Guimaras has been affected by the oil spill with 23 barangays out of 55 disturbed in terms of livelihood. Since then, Pagasa has been providing daily updates regarding the southwest monsoon surge, and through operational wave models, the initial estimate of oil displaced was known.

Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, together with Gen. Glenn Rabonza, executive administrator of the Civil Defense and executive officer of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, presented in a press conference on September 2, the complete science-based response from clean-up to mitigation and rehabilitation interventions. Rabonza also gave Task Force Guimaras updates.

Currently, all agencies concerned in the oil spill are in the response and relief mode, according to Rabonza. In the rehabilitation mode, the S&T inputs will have to be implemented.

Secretary Alabastro said that the science-based response represents all the inputs of the science community, including the academic institutions. The DOST has been designated to certify all agencies that intend to test or implement their technologies or processes that may help in the clean-up activities. For environmental concerns, it is the DENR that will issue permits. This step will deter agencies or individuals who will just get in and may hamper or cause confusion as to what remedial measures are being implemented.

Also, the DOST Regional Office in Iloilo has been focused on the oil spill with its testing laboratories being used for analytical purposes.

Other testing and analysis centers in Western Visayas have also said that the famous Guimaras mango is unaffected by the oil spill and is edible as ever just like groundwater fishes. Crustaceans, however, are contaminated and the people are advised not to consume them.

Clean-up interventions: ‘Bunot not buhok’

The DOST recommends the use of natural materials like coconut husks, rice straw, feathers and corn cobs/stalks in the absorption of oil sludge/tar.

Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul stressed during that the DOST does not recommend the use of human hair or buhok to absorb the oil sludge/tar since there is no full study on this yet and it is impractical in terms of volume. Besides, human hair is harder to degrade and once it is goes out to marine environment, it will be difficult to retrieve.

Natural materials like cocohusk or bunot are easier to handle and degrade faster. To this, Romblon, the coconut-producing province where the first coco-methyl ester plant was established, has started to donate coconut husks for the clean-up operations in Guimaras. Feathers may also be feasible but this must have to be dried well so it will not be another cause of air pollution.

There is also a plan to conduct cocombustion or the reuse of the natural materials like cocohusks and rice straw that were used as improvised booms to contain the oil. These materials will be collected to be reused in a cement plant in Mindanao as alternative fuel and raw materials for “cement kiln processing.” This will be monitored by both the DOST and DENR.

The daily monitoring inputs of Pagasa on weather information, satellite imageries, wave and ocean circulation model outputs will continue to guide the agencies involved in the clean-up operations.

Oil-spill impact assessments

AIR-, soil- and water-quality measurements will be established to determine the oil spill’s effects on marine ecosystem, including health hazards to those living in the affected coastal areas. To complete the environmental assessment, onshore geology will be studied, with the University of the Philippines-Visayas serving as the central repository of all data that will be generated.

Mitigation plan for residual oil

The DOST’s Industrial Technology Development Institute (Itdi) has developed a technology on bioremediation on-site or off-site with the use of a bioreactor. The Itdi has identified oil-eating microorganisms Pseudomonas aeruginosa as the best strain. This strain is used worldwide to treat coastal waters contaminated with oil spill.

The Itdi has locally isolated this strain in the oil-contaminated estero in Pandacan. Once this is used in the affected areas in Guimaras, the microbes will eat up the oil blobs, eventually die naturally and settle at the seafloor leaving no harmful effects on the ecosystem. However, the go signal of Petron, the local government units, the DENR and UP will be sought before this technology is applied.

Rehabilitation protocols

The DOST is also spearheading the activities on the rehabilitation plans for Guimaras. Its partners will be the Departments of Environment, Agriculture, Health and Energy, the LGUs, UP System, Philippine Coast Guard, Marina and Namria.

The following are the rehabilitation activities that need to be pursued:

•Study of long-term effects of oil spill on coastal and marine ecosystems;
•Study of meteorological effect on oil spill-impacted areas;
•Determination of long-term effects of the oil spill on the health of the local populace;
•Reintroduction of depleted marine species;
•Continuous monitoring of air, water, soil, health and other elements until they reach normal acceptable levels;
•Provision of climatological information in determining alternative sea routes; and the
•Study on the possible effects of oil spill to groundwater resources.
Lyn Tabangcura/S&T Media Service via Business Mirror, Sept. 11, 2006

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5 comments

  1. is there a scientific diagram that shows how hair helps clean oil up? if so please provide the info.


  2. Hi Nicole…haven’t had the time to look for the diagram. Maybe you can google it and share it with our readers. Thanks.


  3. is there any way i can acquire a sample of the pseudomonas strain you propose to use in treating the Guimaras Oil Spill? If so, whom do i contact and how much will it cost? I’ll be using the said strain in my research-study. Thanks


  4. Hi Myra… I didn’t propose to use this microbe for treating the oil spill…the Department of Science and Technology did.

    The DOST is located at DOST Bldg. Gen. Santos Ave., Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila, with tel. nos: 837-2071 to 82 and Fax: 837-8937. For further inquiries, I would like to refer you to its web site http://www.dost.gov.ph

    Thanks for visiting sludge.


  5. what is the component of the coco husks and rice straws that has high affinity to oil?



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