The air pollution dilemma

Air pollution


The fact that the constant air pollution incidents in Lagos have not been documented to have caused serious or major casualties is no reason for the authorities to neglect a potential disaster of incredible magnitude. These sudden air pollution incidents are not only injurious to the atmosphere but must have caused deaths of humans and livestock. But given the attitude to record keeping here, they appear hidden from the public glare. The Cameroun disaster in 1986, where the emission of carbon dioxide gas, overnight, from Lake Nyos killed about 1700 people and livestock is a case in point. The authorities in Lagos and Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta especially, should therefore wake up and act proactively. They should not wait for disaster to occur before taking action.

For instance, the emissions, recently, at the Olusosun dumpsite in Lagos which with fires and thick cloud of black smoke over the entire skyline should be a source of great concern. Environmentalists and human rights activists fear that Lagosians are exposed to the danger of inhaling toxic fumes that could exacerbate respiratory track diseases and cause deaths.

The odour from the dumpsite alone is unbearable. It is unimaginable how people have survived in the area, certainly, not without developing some health conditions. A combination of stench and possibly toxic fumes expose people to potential health hazards.

The explanation by the state government that the emissions were a natural outcome of trapped gases escaping to cause combustion was flimsy and unacceptable. It was only meant to downplay the gravity of the pollution. And the same Lagos State Government once ordered the residents to relocate to no specific location. That, again, shows the unpreparedness of the government for disaster management.

The State Commissioner for the Environment, Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti, who gave the explanation in Alausa, the other day stated that waste in dumpsites naturally emits certain gases that are occasionally released to cause combustion. This explanation went the way of the previous air pollution episodes in Lagos that had no scientific basis as to the cause and thereby foreclosed the possibility of proper remedial action.

The Olusosun incident was not the first air pollution in Lagos. On October 12, 2005, for instance, Lagosians woke up to notice choking smog hanging over the city. The incident lasted for over six hours. Anxiety was raised as to the cause of the overhanging thick blanket. That gave insight into the magnitude of pollution in the sprawling mega-city. Unfortunately, to date, no official or tangible scientific explanation has been offered on the incident. Environmentalists say it was “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”

Again, in November 2013, some 25 students of Ogba Junior Secondary School in Ikeja, Lagos, fainted after inhaling what was presumed to be poisonous fumes from a nearby industrial plant. Though, the school was promptly closed after the incident, it was re-opened shortly after without the state authorities establishing the exact nature of the fumes and the extent of damage it may have caused.

The foregoing represents the tip of the iceberg. There is reason to believe that several of such dangerous incidents, including those resulting in fatalities occur daily. The issue of air pollution appears not to be taken seriously by the authorities. Regular air quality monitoring in and around Lagos ought to be part of the environmental sanity agenda. Public enlightenment should also be carried out.

There are over 50 kinds of highly toxic gases that could prove fatal when inhaled in large quantities. These include bromine (Br2), carbon monoxide (CO), chlorine (Cl2) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Human contact with any of these toxic gases could manifest in suffocation, fainting, irritation of the eyes and skin leading to blisters. Extreme exposure could be fatal.

The Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) has a responsibility in this regard. In a densely populated metropolis like Lagos, deleterious fumes could build up or be accidentally released into the air unperceived. Only regular monitoring could detect the danger. It is not known how proactive the Lagos Air Quality Monitoring Study (LAQMS), initiated in 2007 has been. The agency should be diligent in performing its duties and should be able to pinpoint air pollution sources for abatement measures to be initiated.

With urban solid wastes dumped all over the city, a lot of disease elements are floating and are being inhaled by the people. The drainage systems are overflowing with garbage. There is need for hygiene and this would require clear-cut approach from government as well as attitudinal change on the part of the people.

Unfortunately, today, corruption has bastardised governance. There is no diligence in governance. There is a complete break-down of cherished values and people now see nothing wrong in dumping refuse anywhere.Government should devise a strategy to maintain good environmental quality and the people should be carried along. A polluted environment means death to the people. The Lagos State Government should appreciate the fact that urban waste management is a major problem and it should act to make things better.

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