Notes From The Field: A Week In The Life Of A Pure Earth Staffer In The Philippines

 

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What is it like to be a pollution fighter for Pure Earth?

We followed Lara Crampe (above), Pure Earth’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia, during a recent week-long trip to the Philippines, where she met with local partners, visited and assessed polluted sites, and planned future cleanups. Here’s a peek.

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In each community, Lara and the team start by meeting with the local barangay captain or mayor. Pure Earth works closely with local leaders on the ground to get things done.

“We walk around and ask tons of questions from everyone we meet to get a sense of current and past operations, numbers of children and adults who live in the area, and where children play and eat,” reports Lara.

Roylan Fabro, Pure Earth program officer in the Philippines, is holding a handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer that can identify toxic particles in soil in about 30 seconds.

Roylan Fabro, Pure Earth program officer in the Philippines, is holding a handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer that can identify toxic particles in soil in under a minute.

“All the while, we test the soil for lead, arsenic, and other contaminants. We hand-sketch maps and outline what remediation options could be used based on the levels of contamination, the size of the site, and the number of people living there,” says Lara.

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Roylan testing soil using the XRF analyzer.

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Our team, including Dr. Robert Kurkjian (right, Pure Earth Technical Advisory Board member) testing water for toxic contaminants.

On this trip, Lara  visited 10 sites, and the main pollutant she found was lead from the recycling of used lead-acid (car) batteries.

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Recycled lead is formed into cylinders, which are then sent to the munitions factory.

These children (below) live on the site of a former battery recycling operation. Their yard is severely contaminated with lead.

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These boys (below) live inside a lead smelting factory!

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Unfortunately, many people in these communities are not aware of the dangers of lead.

Around residential areas in several different communities, Lara saw old battery casings, which were contaminated with lead, being used as planters…

Old battery casing, contaminated with toxic lead, used as planters

Old battery casing, contaminated with toxic lead, are reused by the community.

… and to “pave” walkways and driveways.

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Old battery casing, contaminated with toxic lead, used as paving slabs. This helps the spread of toxic lead dust as people walk throughout the community.

Local leaders and residents are, however, eager to make changes to protect the health of the community.

A terrific do-it-yourself waste and recycling set-up.

A do-it-yourself waste and recycling set-up.

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We also saw many roosters that we were told were used for cock fighting. Several wandered near Roylan as he was busy analyzing soil.

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Many stores were selling feed for the fighting cocks. It is likely that the roosters ingest toxic lead as they eat.

You would think toxic lead was the only danger Lara encountered on her trip, but she was also caught in a fire while attending a meeting at a hotel! Thankfully everyone got out safely.

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And that’s just another week in the life of a Pure Earth staffer.

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