Kagay-anon leads research to measure emerging organic pollutants in Cagayan, Davao Rivers and coastal areas

Dec 30, 2018


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The Philippines is under threat from effluents which pollute its rivers systems and the general lack of sewage treatment facilities which pose an increasing threat to the health of Filipinos.

Generally, sewage in the Philippines is treated insufficiently, if at all. In 2010, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) reported that only about 15% of the 11.6 million people in Metro Manila were connected to sewage pipes, and the rest use poorly designed and maintained septic tanks.

PEOPLES Study Sites


In 2011, only 16% of the households in major cities around Manila Bay had access to sewage treatment. And in 2016, only 50% of the western service area of Metro Manila was connected to a sewage system; and that excludes millions in illegal settlements, and the eastern service area.

In 2006, the Philippine Environment Monitor estimated that 95% of the wastewater from households all over the country is released into the environment, after minimal treatment, if at all (World Bank, 2007).

With these health concerns in mind, a Kagay-anon scientist is spearheading a research project which aims to provide baseline information on emerging and persistent organic pollutants to help local government units (LGUs) devise combined natural and engineered wastewater treatment plans.

Engineered wastewater will be studied in Manila and natural environmental systems from a watershed to basin scale will be conducted in Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, and Davao City.

Mt. Jove Tapiador


The research project, dubbed Philippines – Project 7-128: “Baselining persistent and emerging organic pollutant levels in environmental and engineered systems (PEOPLES) for healthy Philippines” is a concerted effort of Philippine Science High School-Southern Mindanao Campus alumni (Dr Jaraula, Dr Lyre Espada-Murao, Mr. Jove Tapiador, and Mr. Nicolas Armando Solana), colleague from the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Chemical Engineering Department Dr. Analiza P. Rollon, as well as a collaborative venture with a Filipino-American mentor Dr Diana Aga of University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

Dr Diane Aga, Ph.D.


“This research supports USAID Philippines’ Development Objectives by providing baseline knowledge so that proper government policies and community action can be taken to quantify and manage related environmental and governance challenges,” said Dr. Caroline Marie B. Jaraula, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of the Organic and Stable Isotope (OASIS) Geochemistry Laboratory of the Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Dr Caroline B Jaraula, Ph.D.

The team is a recent grant recipient of the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Cycle 7. Administered by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), PEER is a competitive grants program that invites scientists in developing countries, partnered with US Government (USG)-supported collaborators, to apply for funds to support research and capacity-building activities on topics with strong potential development impacts.

This innovative program is designed to leverage the investments other USG-supported agencies have made in scientific research and training while supporting the initiatives of developing country scientists. 

“The overall goal of this project is to increase the number of wastewater treatment plants sampled for antibiotics analyses, then expand the sampling to point sources and into the receiving river and marine environments,” Ms Jaraula said in an exclusive interview during a recent visit to her family in Cagayan de Oro. She is the youngest daughter of former Mayor and Congressman Constantino and Mrs. Divina Jaraula.

“This will provide baseline data to identify critical areas that will be prioritized for further data acquisition and analyses for a combined engineered and natural wastewater plan that is useful for local governments and organizations to leverage further detailed planning and application for business-government partnerships,” she added.

Global Health & Environmental Resilience


Davao and Cagayan de Oro City,currently do not have municipal wastewater treatment plants, although at least one project in both cities is being constructed. Environmental baseline information prior to the operation of the wastewater treatment plants are key information that this proposed project can provide.

The project aims to consolidate watershed and basin information from various academic, local government sectors, and literature as a map focusing on land-use, locations of point sources (e.g. livestock farms, pharmaceutical industries, hospitals, urban or agricultural or industrial drainage, and landfill) in the study areas.

It aims to collect and collate data on current or planned size, type, and wastewater treatments in various business, municipal, and provincial establishments.

It also aims to determine antibiotics types and concentrations in influent, effluent and in-between treatment in existing wastewater treatment plants, terrestrial and marine environments of Davao, Manila and Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, as stipulated and standardized in the US National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research Exposure’s (PIRE) Halting Environmental Antibiotic Resistance Dissemination (HEARD).



PIRE HEARD is a US National Science Foundation funded international collaboration focused on quantifying the role that wastewater treatment plays in global dissemination of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It addresses AMR– an emerging global threat; and quantifies how wastewater treatment processes affect antimicrobial resistance and how wastewater treatment plants and the receiving environment interact to affect this spread.

“Wastewater treatment plants serve as critical nodes for the collection and potential dissemination of antimicrobial wastes, bacteria, virus, resistance genes, and ecological stressors,” Ms. Jaraula noted.

This study also aims to determine persistent (i.e. pesticides) organic pollutants in the watershed and coastal areas of the proposed sites; characterize possible sources and/or end-member assemblages of pollutants in various matrices (agricultural, urban, industrial, land-fill, feces, etc) and detect antibiotic resistant genes.

“This study along with NSF’s PIRE HEARD are anticipated to lay the foundation for environmental monitoring of antibiotics in the Philippines, as AMR is not just a national, but a global issue,” Ms. Jaraula explained.

This research project will provide baseline information on effluents so that proper government policies and community action can be done to quantify and manage these challenges.

Wetlands, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows provide natural wastewater treatment that are naturally abundant and proliferating in the Philippines, but are poorly managed and under enormous pressure from overutilization, degradation, natural disasters, pollution, now exacerbated by warming seas and rising sea levels.

“The Philippines provide an end-member tropical high biodiversity dataset that is necessary for all types of datasets. The area also provides a unique opportunity to test the clean-up efficiency that naturally evolved in coastal ecosystems. As countries share the influence of seaways, an integrated global environmental sustainability framework is necessary to battle AMR,” Dr Jaraula highlighted for the context of the study

USAID PEER and research on antibiotics and wastewater treatment plants in the Philippines

Synergy between the U.S. government-supported partner and the Philippine contingent can help build analytical expertise, instrument-access and technical training that are necessary in propelling the Philippine academic institutions to the forefront of global environmental and health research.

Much of the challenge of the implementing NSF PIRE HEARD sample collection in the Philippines is not having staff dedicated to pursue the tedious process of getting access and permits to wastewater treatment plants and the expenses incurred in the day-to-day management or sample collection.

Both issues can be addressed with are search grant to fulfill PIRE HEARD requirements and expand into the urgent necessity of the Philippines to have sufficient number of wastewater treatment plants.

In November of 2016, water samples collected from the surface and bottom of Pampanga and Pasig River as well as their discharge to Manila Bay by Dr Jaraula, PI of this proposed project, and analyses by Dr Aga ofthe NSF PIRE HEARD produced results that show hydrological and oceanographic controls on the distribution of antibiotics in the water column.

They clearly defined the source of antibiotics from Pasig River and its spread to Manila Bay. A sampling collection and analyses was also conducted for mariculture, areas close to populated coasts, resorts in Bolinao, Pangasinan (Angeles et. al).

The Philippine environment provide natural wastewater treatment in aquifers, mangrove forests, wetlands born out of hundreds of millions of years of evolution that afforded potable water to our standards.

A consolidation of best practices in the Philippines and in the international arena on a combination of engineered and natural wastewater treatment will be reviewed and evaluated to garner the best possible combination of wastewater treatment for Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

Lessening the environmental pressure on untreated waste will contribute to ridge-to-reef resilience.


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