SOME years back, a friend was scared out of her wits when she woke up from her first night in her hotel room on the third floor and saw from her bed through the window a car passing by, not down there in the first floor but up and too close to the window pane! Feeling a bit lost at waking, she gathered herself to have a second look out of the window.

Some hours earlier, she had arrived in Hong Kong very late in the night and went straight to her hotel room, dropped everything and slept even without changing into her sleeping attire. She was hardly aware of where she was at the end of a very full day after hours of work meetings in Manila and her first trip outside the country at the end of the day.

She saw flyovers and more flyovers!

From the hotel, she had her first sight of flyovers crisscrossing, even as another car passed by her window in a flash. And yes, there was the smog in the city, like any other city industrialized in years of development, and the first thing that came to her mind was pollution, she was in the middle of it!

I imagine that in flyovers, we are developing infrastructures as though to spread unhealthy air in cities, even while the project is meant to solve traffic problems. It’s like walking into another problem, this one affecting people’s health and climate change.

Pollutants bearing on cities in the world come mainly from cars, trucks and buses, especially diesel-powered equipment. Greenhouse gases are air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane.

At the moment I’m writing this, there’s the annual forum on Clean Air Asia held this year at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City to enable countries to monitor and manage air pollution.

But for people to be able to manage air pollution is to have enough ways to monitor greenhouse gases. Sadly, 70 percent of air-monitoring stations and regulators are in wealthy countries. At this point, the ability to monitor pollutants fully is not in the hands of countries most needing it, not in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. But no, the Philippines is not one of the five most polluted countries, which are India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Qatar. Still, we need to move faster, say concerned private organizations.

Pollutants mostly come from the combustion of fuels from mobile sources, like the vehicles on the road, from power plants, industry, even from burning activities in households. There are also the water sources.

In a research done by the chemistry department of the University of San Carlos last year, water samples from Guadalupe, Mahiga, Butuanon upstream and downstream rivers were found to be highly polluted. But to put it this way for communities to hear is like describing air pollution in technical terms to a simple man in the street who is most in danger of getting sick and dying of cancer out of a lifetime of commuting daily, taking in pollutants in the middle of the smog.

What if we talk about the tests of water samples of upstream and downstream rivers made by the USC chemistry department? The researchers took water samples from each river then put young tilapia fish in each glass. The fishes died.

In handling our water and air pollution problems, the government is trying to put together the help of private organizations, like the researches made and more, also the close monitoring. The private sector also suggests the planting of more trees and undertaking projects for more vegetation that can help halt climate change.

But the government doesn’t seem to get the attention of people regarding the unsafe air problem. Perhaps we could start thinking twice. There are moments when I sense something toxic in the air, a quick and sharp soreness in the atmosphere, don’t you feel it?