Tue. Dec 1st, 2020
The overlaying of dolomite on the shore of along Roxas Boulevard beside the American Embassy, allegedly to reinforce Manila Bay’s picturesque sunset, has drawn flak from environmental groups and social media, creating yet another after-the-fact bloody debate that has sent President Duterte’s cabinet divided.

(Part 1: Another One Bites the Dust)

Queen took the world by storm in 1980 as the song became a hit in 17 countries, but nowhere larger than in the United States, where it became the biggest-selling Queen record ever, topping both the Pop and Disco charts, as well as reaching #2 on the Soul chart.

Composed by bassist John Deacon, the song features an instantly recognizable funk bass riff, and high energy, bordering on manic, vocals by Freddie Mercury.

But here in contemporary Philippines, the latest to hit the ceiling is the country’s newest doctor of medicine and public health and safety none other than Undersecretary Benny Antiporda of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who has unilaterally legislated dolomite inhalation or ingestion is not injurious to human health.

A new graduate or is it convert of the surfing university (?), otherwise known as the internet, Antiporda a former floor manager of a nightclub in Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, decried the claim as “rubbish” the claims of former Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, convenor of the Infrastructure Watch, claimed there are a number of scientific and medical studies linking dolomite to various respiratory diseases, including cancer.

Antiporda is the spokesman of the inter-agency Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project which has been tasked to clean up and beautify a portion of the bay front.

Dolomite material will take the role of white sand which will be used to top coat the beach surface to complement Manila Bay’s picturesque sunset in a P389-million Manila Bay rehabilitation project.

This new argument against the proposed sand treatment of a 500-meter stretch of the bay was raised by environmental advocates opposed to the project, placing yet another sensitive issue of public health and safety to a debate, after the fact, as the DENR has already dumped the humungous load at the beachfront.

“They have to show us proof not just claims that remain unsupported by scientific or medical studies. Dolomite and coral reefs are made of the same material which is calcium carbonate – which is not foreign to our coastal system,” Antiporda explained.

He dared critics to cite specific cases of people getting sick as a result of ingestion or prolong exposure to dolomite material.

The swashbuckling undersecretary, however, has yet to show any clearance certificate from either the Food and Drug Administration or the Department of Health.

Already, Antiporda has hit the hardwall because Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said over television that the inhalation of crushed dolomite rock in Manila Bay can cause respiratory problems.

“Based on studies and medical literature, it can cause respiratory issues to a person. Kapag napunta sa mata, magkakaroon ng kaunting irritation. Kapag na-ingest, magkakaroon ng gastro-intestinal discomfort, pagkakasakit ng tiyan at pagtatae…ito iyong mga minor effects,” said Vergeire.

This is the spokeswoman of the InterAgency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases contradicting the spokesman of the Environment and Natural Resources.

When I consulted the surfing university, I read that while dolomite has been used a nutritional supplement for a balancing source of calcium and magnesium, why is it not commonly offered?

Columbia University says calcium carbonate is a cheap calcium supplement with a high percentage of calcium by weight, but the body has difficulty in breaking it down for use.

Though dolomite in powdered form is soluble in weak acids, stomach acid doesn’t do the best job of dissolving it, especially in people with decreased stomach acid secretions for example in sick and elderly people.

Besides, other forms of calcium like calcium citrate are easier for the body to absorb.

The clincher supports Vergeire: “In addition to being a less effective source of calcium, dolomite may be hazardous to your health. Dolomite deposits also contain other elements such as barium, lead, and iron and manganese carbonates as impurities.

“In the early 1980s, concern arose regarding heavy-metal contamination of calcium supplements when a study found high concentrations of lead in dolomite supplements. Since it may contain the toxic elements mercury and lead, dolomite is not a recommended source for calcium and magnesium — other forms of these minerals are available that would be safer to take.”

There you go, Antiporda’s glib tongue is exposed – dolomite is not for public consumption.

Its use must be regulated by a real doctor of medicine, not a white sand enthusiast engaged in beautifying a beach at the expense of human lungs. In fact, it must be taken with Vitamin D, or as directed.

 The University of Minnesota has additional insights.

“By volume, the most important uses of dolomite are in the production of concrete and as aggregate construction material. Significant amounts of dolomite are also used as dolostone and dolomitic marble building stones and in the manufacture of glass and ceramic glazes.

“In industry, dolomite is an important source for magnesium and calcium metals, and is used as a flux for metallurgy. A flux is a material that melts easily and can be used to remove impurities from metal ores or to make the slag produced by metal ore smelting more fluid so it can be disposed of more easily.

“Smaller amounts of dolomite are also used for human consumption as a mineral supplement and as an antacid, although to a lesser degree than calcite. Dolomite is even used in facial creams and toothpaste.

“In agriculture, powdered dolomite is also an important component of many fertilizers and animal feeds.”

That’s scary. I don’t know about you but I have no intentions of introducing concrete and constructional material into my respiratory system especially in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic which incapacitates the lungs.

I will not even come close to ingesting anything that has something to do with glass and ceramic glazes, or flux for metalurgy.

I am neither a plant or just an animal. As such, I will stay away from anything like that for my face or mouth, just to prove Antiporda right. He might be a dolomite fan, and so is Secretary Roy Cimatu, but they can deluge their homes with it but for public places, it just out of common sense that I cannot eat sea corals.

Coming to the aid of his former boss in the military, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the government would stop the white sand project as the Department of Health can prove that dolomite is harmful to humans.

Seemingly not conscious that the Manila Times has already asked for the rationalization of yet another former military general Charlie Galvez as implementer of the National Task Force issuing policy statements conflicting those that the IATF issues insofar as Covid-19 is concerned, Ano said, “I don’t think the dolomites are harmful based on the presentation of Secretary Cimatu.”

So that will be three former Armed Forces chiefs-of-staff now, plus a former nightclub floor manager, against one real doctor of medicine Maria Rosario Vergeire. I hope the President does not call for a show of hands here, submitting our health, safety and lives to a democratic vote.

Immediately, Secretary Ano engages in a double speak – “Of course, there will be more discussions on this but based on what we’ve learned na talagang hindi na siya harmful but I leave it to the experts and we’ll have more discussions on this.” Immediately, the small congestion forming in my throat eases.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information which is a division of the US National Institute of Health said there is “little information” of dolomite’s potential to trigger respiratory disorders through occupational exposure.

The devils, however, are in the caveats.

In its study of the substance, the NCBI concluded that while its data “cast doubt on the notion that dolomite is a harmless chemical, they provide evidence in favor of the proposition that exposure to high atmospheric concentrations of these compounds is likely to be associated with respiratory symptoms.”

In its website, Lhoist North America disclosed that dolomite contact “can cause irritation to eyes, skin, respiratory system, and gastrointentestinal tract,”
adding that “long-term exposure may cause permanent damage.” This echoes Vergeire.

“However, this product may contain trace amounts of crystalline silica in the form of quartz or crysbobalite, which has been classified by IARC as a Group I carcinogent to humans when inhaled,” reported the firm, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Lhoist Group, which is the global distributor of lime, dolime, and other minerals.

Meanwhile, the Lehigh Hanson Inc. has released a safety data sheet for dolomite, classifying the material used for manufacture of brick, cement, and other construction materials, to Category 1A in terms of carcinogenicity.

“Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) may cause cancer. Dolomite is a naturally occuring mineral complex that contains varying quantities of quartz (crystalline silica),” the firm added.

Lehigh Hanson is a distributor of various construction materials, concrete products, and other industrial products.

For the meantime here we are late in the day, with a high environment official asking a high health official to first prove that a substance is not injurious to humans when in a real world it is the former who should have first secured from the latter a clearance as to the safety of the material.

Antiporda asserts, so he must prove. This is not a matter of public relations, sir, of which you are an expert.

Inversely, you need not drink Zonrox in order to prove it can kill you. And one may cite the old joke saying my neighbor committed suicide by drinking a bottle of iodine, but he woke up the next day and his goiter got cured.

So my friends, the Queen asks – are you going to bite the dust?

In a case like this, I won’t. I put my vote in favor of Vergeire.

I will never go near that freaking beach. (ia/SPH)

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