DENR records significant drop in Manila Bay's coliform level

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources recorded a significant drop in Manila Bay's coliform level.

American-based Water Research Center defines fecal coliform bacteria as a group of bacteria passed through the fecal excrement of humans, livestock, and wildlife. The higher fecal coliform count in water means it is contaminated with heavy presence of bacteria which may cause diseases to humans like ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, and hepatitis A.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said Manila Bay's coliform level dropped from 7.16 million most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100ml) in 2020 to 4.87 million mpn/100ml in February 2021.

Cimatu added fecal coliform level in the waters near the controversial Manila Bay dolomite beach nourishment project has dropped from 2.2 million mpn/100ml last January 4 to 523,000 mpn/100 ml on February 8, based on the average count from three monitoring stations.

The significant decline in the bay's coliform level, however, is still a far cry the ideal 100 mpn/100ml for coastal waters. The ideal standard means the water is safe for swimming and other related recreational activities.

The DENR chief vowed to further decrease the fecal coliform bacteria in Manila Bay to meet the right level.

"We will make sure that we continue to clean the waters of Manila Bay until it becomes safe again for contact activities," Cimatu said in a statement.

Cimatu's remark was an apparent response to former Manila Mayor and now Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, who said on Wednesday the waters of Manila Bay are "several times filthier" as compared to its situation in 1999.

The House Deputy Speaker explained that in 1999, the bay's fecal coliform level only stood between 50,000 and 80,000 mpn/100ml.

"This is really not surprising because up to now, of the 16.3 million water-served population in Metro Manila, only 15% or 2.4 million are connected to a sewerage system. Clearly, the bulk of Metro Manila's household toilet waste continues to drain into waterways, including the Pasig River, that all empty out into the bay every day," Atienza said.

Cimatu also said additional water quality monitoring stations have been installed along the Manila Baywalk at Roxas Boulevard to monitor the coliform level within major tributaries leading to the bay.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Manila Bay's massive rehabilitation in January 2019, which focuses on cleaning up the bay and waterways leading to it. Informal settlers and some establishments located near the bay and its connecting waterways were removed to help clean the 2,000-kilometer body of water.

In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus which orders 13 government agencies to clean up Manila Bay.