The Roundtable Discussion (RTD) on Environmental Chemical Pollutants and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) was organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) through its Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division (MPSD) on February 24, 2015 at Hotel Jen Manila.
The RTD discussed environmental chemical pollutants and their effects on health, and suggested ways on how to address the problems through identification of research gaps and policy recommendations.
Invited experts were Dr. Evangeline C. Santiago, head, Research and Analytical Services Laboratory, Natural Sciences Research Institute, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman; Dr. Catherine Lynn T. Silao, head, Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, UP Manila; Dr. Emmanuel S. Baja, research associate professor of environmental epidemiology, Institute of Clinical Epidemiology, National Institutes of Health, UP Manila and visiting scientist, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health; and Dr. Eva S. Ocfemia, assistant director, Environmental Management Bureau, Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DENR-EMB).
Dr. Santiago discussed the results of their monitoring of organic pollutants in river and coastal areas such as nonylphenol, bisphenol A (BPA), and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). According to Dr. Santiago, nonylphenol can be found in industrial detergents while BPA is commonly found in plastic containers, both of which are highly toxic to fish and humans. Moreover, POPs commonly found in pesticides were detected in river sediments and exposure to these produces various negative effects on body processes.
Consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish increases the exposure of humans to these pollutants. She further suggested monitoring of toxic organic pollutants in air, water, and food to manage the risk of population to the adverse health effects of these chemicals.
Dr. Silao discussed epigenetics and the effects of toxic chemicals on human health. She defined epigenetics as the study of heritable changes in expression of genes that take place without changes in the DNA sequence and are produced without continued stimulus. Dr. Silao said that chemicals can attack our body systems directly, change the actual code of genes, or affect how genes act in the body without changing the nucleotide sequence.
She also stated that exposure of pregnant women to chemicals can cause diseases in the next generation. She suggested providing information for developing strategies for prevention such as exposure reduction as well as pharmacological, dietary, and lifestyle interventions through future research.
Dr. Baja discussed traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and its correlation to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. He discussed his previous and current studies on TRAP exposure in the Philippines. Dr. Baja identified research gaps and opportunities in the country such as conducting more longitudinal studies, as well as air pollution and environmental epidemiological studies. He also suggested the use of air pollution monitoring for environmental health and exposure assessment studies, as well as convening and creating a scientific advisory board on air pollution that would advise and identify priorities for action.
Dr. Ocfemia explained the functions of the DENR-EMB and discussed its programs on Prevention and Control of Pollution (PCP). The PCP includes Environmental Impact Assessment, Water Quality Management, Air Quality Management, Solid Waste Management, and Toxic Chemicals and Hazardous Waste Management.
She reported the problems and gaps of the PCP and suggested ways on how to address them. Some of her recommendations include sustaining and strengthening partnership with chemical industry and related sectors; improving the multi-stakeholders’ initiatives and collaboration regarding chemical management; and conducting more research on health and environment.
During the open forum, the participants raised their concerns and recommendations. They noted the importance of science communication to laymen, which according to them is a key to the better understanding of the technical side of the topics. Another recommendation is to establish linkages and collaboration among the institutions of the resource persons for more research opportunities. It will also serve as an avenue for a multi-disciplinary approach to the research gaps and other concerns regarding environmental chemical pollutants and NCDs.
Acd. Jaime C. Montoya, Chair of NAST PHL Health Sciences Division (HSD) discussed the rationale and objectives of the 37th Annual Scientific Meeting and Acd. Antonio Miguel L. Dans introduced Non-Communicable Diseases. National Scientist (NS) Lourdes J. Cruz, member of the MPSD, served as the moderator. Dr. Bernard John V. Tongol, Outstanding Young Scientist 2012 and associate professor of the Department of Chemistry, College of Science, University of Sto. Tomas served as the synthesizer while Acd. Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza, chair of the MPSD served as the focal person and formally closed the event.
This RTD is the fifth in the series of discussions conducted on the role of the different sciences in combating NCDs for the upcoming 37th Annual Scientific Meeting to be held on July 8 and 9. (Aislynn Fabiola G. Manuel)