By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu warned the public that Manila Bay remains unsafe for bathing due to high levels of fecal coliform.
Fecal coliform are bacteria associated with fecal material from humans and other animals. They enter bodies of water from sources, such as direct defecation or sewage overflow.
“Bathing in Manila Bay can expose people to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which could increase their chances of developing illnesses. Government has not yet given the all-clear signal for swimming,” Cimatu said.
The DENR chief cited that as of Jan. 28, water monitoring stations set up along the bay area have registered fecal coliform levels measuring as much as 35 million most probable number (mpn) per 100 milliliters (mL), specifically taken from the Rajah Soliman outfall (Station 5).
DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) has set up eight water quality monitoring stations along Roxas Boulevard, between the United States Embassy and the Mania Yacht Club.
Another sampling station set up at the Padre Faura drainage outfall (Station 2) registered a fecal coliform count of 7.9 million mpn/100 mL.
The standard coliform level for coastal waters that is safe for swimming and other similar recreational activities is at only 100 mpn/100 mL.
Cimatu issued the warning after photos and videos of people, including children, bathing in the waters along Roxas Boulevard in Manila circulated online.
After the clean up drive last Jan. 27, photos of a visibly cleaner” Manila Bay went viral.
Cimatu said the clean up activity, while laudable, had only addressed surface trash.
“We have not yet gotten rid of pollutants, such as those from untreated wastewater being discharged into the bay, so we strongly advise the public, especially children, to refrain from swimming in the bay for now,” he reiterated.
As for the water sampling in the other stations along Baywalk, the fecal coliform count in mpn/100 mL is as follows: Station 1 beside the United States Embassy, 3,100; Station 3 in front of Diamond Hotel, 7,900; Station 4 at Carpel Shell Export and Museum, 2,400; Station 6 in front of Metrobank near Grand Hotel, 2,400; Station 7 in front of Admiral Hotel, 3,300; and Station 8 across the Quirino Avenue stoplight, 13,000.
The Department of Health had earlier also warned that it is not safe to swim in Manila Bay, citing health issues.
Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections.
More than conducting cleanup activities, Cimatu said the real challenge was in addressing sources of water pollution, such as sewage or untreated wastewater being discharged either directly into the bay or via its tributaries.
DENR had previously reported that the coliform level in Manila Bay had reached as much as 330 million mpn/100 mL, which is 3.3 million percent over the standard.
EMB had also monitored extremely high coliform counts in 11 outfalls draining into the bay in 2018.
For instance, Malate’s Estero San Antonio de Abad outfall, which drains into a portion of the bay within the Manila Yacht Club area, registered 1.36 billion mpn/100 mL.