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Danger of smoking

Cigarette smoking and tobacco products has been linked to lung cancer. In Port Harcourt and environs most people are not smoking cigarettes but are smoking other things, nonetheless,  they breathe in air filled with black soot.

Residents of Port Harcourt woke up later part of 2016 to see layers of black soot all over their houses, properties, inside their nostrils. A mother cleaning her baby’s nostrils discovers black soot an evidence of dangerous environmental pollution that has become life threatening. The rivers state government has set up a task force to investigate and stop the current soot

Professor Roseline Konya, the Commissioner for Environment, Rivers State, said that air samples of the black soot collected for analysis showed that the particulate matter is very high, beyond the acceptable level of 25 micro gram per cubic meter of air .Some areas measured up to 62,125 and 270 micro grams in the air. People that are inhaling the black soot will most likely suffer the same things cigarette smokers suffer or worse as poisonous substances weaken the lungs thus making them susceptible to respiratory diseases.

According to the commissioner, the soot is petroleum based and is as a result of incomplete combustion. The task force is presently using drone surveillance and other methods to identify the organizations that are involved in this practice. Any organization dealing with petroleum and hydrocarbon is a suspect.

The task force is also looking into the burning of tires which has increased in the state as some cow sellers use them to burn hides of their meat while others burn them to get copper wires for sale. Other suspects are operators of illegal modular refineries in the creeks. It has been discovered that some communities have this illegal facilities which they operate at night to avoid arrests. From the research conducted, the task force noticed that the pollution level was very high at night and lower during the day.  During operation Crocodile Smile, it was reported that 74 illegal refineries were destroyed in some part of rivers state. Burning these refineries and products could add to the air pollution in the environment. It is advisable to engage the services of environmental professionals in the destruction of these facilities she said. The government will talk with law enforcement agencies that destroy illegal modular refineries on best practices as the ministry has not been carried along.

Gas Flaring was also fingered in causing the over saturation of the environment with pollutants. The federal government said gas flaring will stop by 2004, 2005 and 2008 but up till date, they are still flaring. Nigeria flares more natural gas during oil extraction than most countries. During these flaring, poisonous chemicals like sulfur dioxide, benzene, hydrogen sulfide, toluene, xylene and nitrogen dioxide are released into the atmosphere. Dangerous and carcinogenic compounds like benzo(a)pyrene and dioxins are also part of the released substances. They cause respiratory problems that lead to respiratory diseases which are risk factors in lung cancer. Inhabitants of the Niger Delta Region are exposed more to these dangers. 

Asphalt producing companies have been indicted concerning this black soot production. In a recent Press release, the commissioner for information and communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George informed the public that 3 companies that were involved in the production of asphalt has been indicted and closed down by the task force on the black soot. According to him, the directors of the organizations will face prosecution according to the law.

The commissioner for environment said that the research is very expensive and very tasking. Finger printing is being used to analyze the content of the soot as well as climatology/emission modeling which will enable them use the wind direction and other parameters to get  specific direction of the emission and culprits. The task force is presently using meteorological equipments from the University of Science Technology, Niger delta Basin authority and the University of Port Harcourt .The task force has experts working on this and may get outside help if necessary.

Daily Sun at this point spoke to Ralph Nnam, the zonal director of the National Environmental Standards and regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) on what they are doing about the situation in Port Harcourt.

He said that they are collaborating with the state government’s ministry of environment and organizations that deal with environmental issues to tackle the black soot. Nesrea according to him has been part of several meetings of stake holders linked with this challenge. He iterated that in addition to modular refineries being identified as part of the challenge, their mode of destruction is liable to add more pollutants to the already saturated environment. He also pointed out the fact that e-waste that is burnt by some people in order to extract some metals might be contributing to the air pollution in Port Harcourt. We are operating within the task force set up to stop the soot. Beyond the collaborative effort with other agencies, we are the enforcement arm of the industry and have closed down some asphalt producing companies emitting black soot from their stack and have instituted court processes against them at the federal high court. Nesrea is getting court order to back up their closure until they change their system or technology to comply with the right procedures so that the emission will not be beyond the permissibly limit.

Speaking further, he said that the organization has programs on control of emission. One of them is vehicular emission control program which will also help to reduce air pollution in Nigeria. This will be operated in conjunction with the Federal road safety corporation, National union of road transport union and the police. It is going to be a public, private partnership project. It will entail testing all the vehicles to make sure that the emission from each exhaust pipe is not too much or above the permitted level so as to reduce the mobile sources of pollution. There are also the stationery ones like the generators. We are working with an organization to build up data base on10kva generators and above so that we can profile them in future and monitor their emission level. Exhaust fumes from Generators and Cars are also very dangerous to human health. They contribute to the release of Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) that have been linked to cancer.

On gas flaring, he said that there are issues that have to do with change of the entire technology and methods. There is a technology in place now and to stop flaring means that the entire system has to be overhauled or changed. There is still a flare out time table. Meanwhile there is also fine paid by operating organizations to this country for every cubic meter of gas flared. The fine is quite low and the oil companies can easily pay the fine and continue flaring but if the legislature can make the fine higher, the companies might then be forced to change their methods thus stop flaring.

Present in the air samples analyzed by the task force are benzo(a)pyrene, benzene, and nickel . Chronic exposure to them may lead to some health hazards.

Benzene: This chemical causes Irritation of the respiratory organs, breathing challenges, persistent cough, and chest pain. It may cause dermatitis and warts on the skin too. It may lead to a form of anemia and leukemia.  High dose of benzene may cause headaches, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, tremors and loss of consciousness and possible death.

 Benzo(a)pyrene: This chemical can also be produced during the burning of local waste. It may cause irritation of the eyes with burning sensation, accompanied with red eyes which may be mistaken as conjunctivitis.  It also irritates the lungs, the skin and may be passed to babies through breastfeeding. It is cacogenic.

Nickel: This is another toxic substance that has the same effect as others mentioned. It is more potent and can get into the other organs of the body even through the skin. It irritates the sinuses and Reduces lung function causing bronchitis and may lead to lung cancer with long exposure.

According to Dr Chinwe Ezirim, Health Services Department, University of Port Harcourt “cancer of the lungs has killed four of my friends in the past 4 years. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. All of them were female workers in the university. None of them had ever smoked a cigarette. The first lady passed on in 2013, a senior staff in the SPATS office. In 2014, our renowned professor of cardiology lost the battle to the deadly disease. Last year, a former Head of Department in the Faculty of Education died from the scourge. And just last week, a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography died in Abuja on her way for treatment.” This statement was made in 2015, coincidental or otherwise residents do not want to continue with this kind of a story.  Steps should be taken to stop the rising trend of deaths caused by Lung Cancer she said. Air pollution is on the increase in Nigeria. And I can say with certainty that the daily dose of toxic assault to our lungs is almost palpable. Several researches has shown that the level of oxygen in the air is no longer 21%, but has been progressively reduced to amounts that may not be conducive for a sustained healthy living. I have counseled on various types of Cancer over the past 6 years, with good outcomes. But when it came to Lung Cancer, it was a different story.

Here are a few steps to take in order to reduce the incidence of lung cancer

 Installation of Air- purification equipment in our homes and offices is of utmost importance. We should endeavor to buy air purifiers to keep certain impurities out of our homes and offices. The air conditioner just cools the air using a refrigerant and heat exchanger while simple air purifier filters the air using high voltage to pick up all dust, pollen and other impurities in the air.

Windows in our homes should be shut during the day to exclude fumes and black soot from getting into the houses. If you live close to a major road you do not have a choice.

Face masks should be worn in areas with high pollution level. Plant more trees in your environment and place air-purifying potted plants at home and offices.  

Proper Diet and active Lifestyle will help keep lung diseases far from you.  Engage in annual medical check up on your birthday.
We must act fast to slow down the development of lung cancer.
Air purification is an urgent investment we must make to save our lungs from cancer. Proper diet of raw, colorful, vegetables and fruits in season are very important, these will boost our immunity, nourish our body, alkaline our cells and remove toxins from our system. Exercise will help circulate oxygen better and speedily evacuate carbon-dioxide and other chemicals from our lungs.

Benzene, nickel and other substances released into the air during the combustion incomplete or otherwise of hydro-carbons are cacogenic to humans. When inhaled can find its way into the lungs and the bloodstream. It can cause respiratory disorders including asthma attacks as well as bronchitis and lung cancer. It can also lead to heart attacks and strokes in patients with heart issues if not properly managed.

Black soot is a dangerous combination of all these chemicals and a product of industrialization and petroleum production. It is non partisan and should be handled by both the state and federal government to forestall future deaths in all the states experiencing it now.

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