Painting over the issue

PAINTED LUNGS. The MMDA approves an air-filtering public art project along EDSA. Photo by Devon Wong

PAINTED LUNGS. The MMDA approves an air-filtering public art project along EDSA.

Photo by Devon Wong

MANILA, Philippines - Pollution in the streets of Manila is harming motorists’ health. A local company aims to ease the problem through paint and artwork.

Devon Wong reports.


DEVON WONG, REPORTING: It’s not unusual to see people covering their noses and mouths in EDSA traffic. We may not see it, but we’re breathing in a very real problem. 

When I first moved into the neighborhood, I developed a chronic cough. My friends joked, calling it the “EDSA lung”. But the long-term effects of everyday air pollution are no laughing matter. It’s a very real concern for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

CORAZON JIMENEZ, MMDA GENERAL MANAGER: It’s not good for tourists, it’s not good for people who inhabit Metro Manila.

Jimenez says that EDSA carries three times the amount of traffic than its capacity on a daily basis. The sight of traffic is an eyesore to most commuters in Metro Manila. But Jimenez is more concerned about the health effects. 

CORAZON JIMENEZ, MMDA GENERAL MANAGER: And everytime I go to the communities, I always inform them, do you think the air you’re breathing now is clean?

But out of thin air, a local company approaches Jimenez with a colorful idea.

JOHNSON ONGKING, BOYSEN PAINT VICE PRESIDENT: It’s an air cleaning paint. That’s a very very new concept. Whatever surface you paint it on, that surface becomes an air purifier.

The paint combines existing technologies to turn every painted surface into an active air filter. They work with government towards an ambitious goal -- to paint murals along the most heavily polluted sections of EDSA using the high tech paint. Initial tests before and after the painted murals prove to have some positive results on reducing the levels of air pollutants.

JOHNSON ONGKING, BOYSEN PAINT VICE PRESIDENT: Purely in terms of reduction of nitrogen oxides, it’s worth about 1000 trees, really. So when we paint about 8 of these, which we’re planning to do, it’s sort of the equivalent of planting 8000 trees.

But what about the people who spend most of their waking hours along EDSA? 

RODRIGO KALIMANTAN, LONGTIME VENDOR UNDER ORTIGAS FLYOVER: You can’t avoid the smoke, everyday there’s smoke. Sometimes I cough

RODRIGO KALIMANTAN, LONGTIME VENDOR UNDER ORTIGAS FLYOVER: It does. And it looks nice. The air is clean. Especially when you're here everyday, I don't get headaches anymore.

The project is halfway through painting, but the battle for clean air is far from won. Filipinos are not likely to give up their vehicles, but Jimenez hopes the public & private sectors will evolve a solution.

DEVON WONG, REPORTING: The project is a creative attempt to manage Manila’s growing urban development. It might be a superficial approach in addressing the city’s air pollution issue, but at least it’s scratching the surface.

Devon Wong, Rappler, Manila