Coliform levels around Puerto Princesa Bay where the swimming leg of Ironman 70.3 are within tolerable limits, according to the latest test administered for the city government by the local water district.
Experts, however, have expressed doubts on the accuracy of the test conducted in preparation for the sporting event. Palawan News also learned that separate tests conducted by other government agencies and furnished to the city government have noted high coliform levels in the competition area.
Some 1,221 triathletes are expected to swim 1.9 kilometers at the Puerto Princesa Bay from the east side of the City Baywalk as part of the Ironman 70.3 on Sunday, November 13.
Prior to the construction of the sewage treatment plant (STP), wastewater from the nearby public market empties directly to the bay, aside from those improper settlements in the surrounding coastal areas.
Puerto Princesa City Water District (PPCWD) general manager Walter Laurel told Palawan News that based on their tests, coliform levels in the bay had dramatically improved.
He explained that tests conducted by PPCWD on November 2 yielded a result of 14 most probable number (mpn)/100 ml fecal coliform was recorded from the samples extracted near the port area, 3.7 mpn/100 ml at the Princesa ng Baybay statue and 9.1mpn/100 ml at the fish port.
He added that this is way below the standard based on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order of 100 mpn/100 ml fecal coliform count that is generally safe for recreational activities like swimming.
He did admit, though, that a previous test they did on October 18 with water samples taken near the Princesa ng Baybay statue showed a high count of 210 mpn/100 ml fecal coliform, which is more than the DENR allows.
Tests done by the PPCWD from the Port Area, which is the closest to the designated swimming course for the triathlon, has followed an erratic trend from 430 mpn/100 ml recorded on September 27, maintained at 430 mpn/100 ml on October 3, down to 130 mpn/100 ml on October 11, diving to only 14 mpn/100 ml on the latest test on November 3.
An informant who asked not to be named disclosed to Palawan News that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) has conducted a separate water quality testing on the Puerto Princesa Bay.
When asked about the result of the water quality test, PCSD spokesperson Jovic Fabello said: “Nai-forward na namin sa City Government. Sa City [niyo] na lang hingiin.” The city government has not released the PCSD test result to the public.
Based on the information acquired by Palawan News, the PCSD’s testing allegedly resulted in a higher amount of fecal coliform present in the bay.
Palawan News asked a laboratory expert in Manila, who also asked not to be named, about the drastic decline of fecal coliform count on the water quality testings conducted by the PPCWD.
Although the expert concedes that the count may decline if there is a continuous treatment, he said that the drastic decline based on the PPSCWD data is “quite impossible.”
“Ang chlorine treatment, filtration, UV irradiation, and ozonation could possibly help on the decline of fecal coliform count. There is a possibility na bumaba kung continuous ang treatment. Pero sige sabihin na natin na may treatment pero paano naman yung mga bahay na malapit sa baywalk lalo na sa mga walang septic tank. Contributors pa rin sila,” the laboratory expert said.
The laboratory expert also noted the absence of other parameters in the tests conducted by the PPCWD.
“Other parameters should also be considered like oil leaks from the boats and ships docking in the area. Or yung rusts that might come from them. Marami pang dapat iconsider na posible ding maging threat lalo na sa tao that we are unaware of kasi wala doon sa result ng test,” the laboratory expert added.
According to PPCWD, they have conducted another set of water quality tests this week with the results expected to be released on Saturday, November 12.
Ironman organizers assure bay water is safe
The head of the organizers of the Ironman 70.3 race set for this coming Sunday assured participants – and the public – that the quality of water in the bay is safe and clean, two days before the event.
Princess Galura, president and general manager of Sunshine Events, Inc. said latest results of tests conducted in the baywalk showed that the water quality is safe for recreational swimming.
She explained that, in addition to testing, they had swimmers enter the water to give it a try.
“As far as we know, if we will have the race tomorrow, we are ready. We have been working on the water of Puerto Princesa, and we have done regular testing and so far, it has passed the specs. This one has passed international standards to ensure nothing [uneventful] will happen. It’s good for recreational swimming,” Galura said during Friday’s press conference for the event.
“We have done all the necessary due diligence in water testing. In fact, kahapon (November 10), we had seasoned triathletes swim in the area to make sure that we will gain the confidence of the participants. They gave their assessment where they told us that it’s cleaner than the other races that they have been to,” she added.
Furthermore, she said fecal coliform and E. coli level in the waters are way below the standards for recreational swimming.
“The standard is 100, and in the area, the highest level is 14 and the lowest is 3. So imagine, those who swam yesterday, they drank water but they are still walking and in good condition,” she explained.
A volunteer athlete who tested the course posted a positive review on his FB account.
“No significant foul odors, none from gas/oil, and no fishy/ malansa smells either. The only debris we encountered was all organic, and mostly in the last 800m section because the swim rope was trapping it. All dried leaves, seaweed, and small branches. But nothing you wouldn’t be able to shake off quickly,” he said
Meanwhile, Puerto Princesa Water Reclamation and Testing Center (PPWRTC) president Atty. Jehremiah Asis said they expanded their water treatment capacity and have plugged the water outlets that lead to the bay.
“For this ironman race, we expanded our treatment capacity from 2,000 cu.m. to 3,000 cu.m. per day, in coordination with the water district and the LGU. We also continue with our monitoring and if we need to make adjustments with our operations, we do,” Asis said.
Likewise, Mayor Lucilo R. Bayron also said they have made necessary steps to make sure that the water at the baywalk will be clean come race day.
“Pasado naman siya, doon sa swimming area. Kasi ang binantayan namin dyan yung fish port. Inalis muna namin yung mga lantsa dyan at tinigil yung washing ng octopus. Tapos, sinara yung outfall sa may pier doon sa Barangay Bagong Pag-asa, pinabalik doon sa water treatment plant,” Bayron said.
In a separate interview, a senior chemical analyst with the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) stated that while they have not classified Puerto Bay as recreational waters, they have been monitoring the areas around Pristine Beach, a public beach popular with locals.
She also said there is still no EMB accredited agency qualified to do water water testing, and only the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has a pending application.
“Wala pang accredited na DENR lab sa PPC, si DOST pa lang ang nasa process or ongoing ang accreditation sa application nila,” Leonor Mansueto said.
She declined to comment on tests conducted by the water district.