Rivers residents panic over industrial emission

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Rivers residents panic over industrial emission




This is not the best of times for residents of Rivers State as they battle to save their lives from a strange  emission threatening to take over the town. From Port Harcourt, Obio Akpor, Ahoada, Ikwerre, Oyigbo to Degema and Soku, reporters gathered that residents are living in fear with many adopting several measures such as shutting their doors and windows, regular bathing and washing of hands and faces as well as wearing of nose masks to save themselves and families from inhaling the substance called black soot.

Newsmen report that last week, concerned residents of Port Harcourt took to the streets to demand an immediate remediation to what they called a life threatening emission. One of the protesters, Hilda Dokubo, a Nollywood actress, called on the state government to take drastic measures to curtail the emission of the black carbon. She also called on companies operating in the state to adopt safety measures that are environmentally friendly in their operations.

 Meanwhile, some Port Harcourt residents have started gradually relocating their families to rural communities as a precautionary measure. The development is causing panic and suspicion among residents just as blame game dots the landscape of the oil rich state on who is responsible for the emission of the black soot which both environmental and medical experts say is harmful.

While many of the residents blame the emission on the activities of those involved in illegal oil refining, others place it on companies that own asphalt disilting plants.

Worried by the development, however, the Rivers State government last week set up a task force to tackle the issues of black soot polluting Port Harcourt and its environs.

The task force was mandated to investigate and resolve the environmental challenge.

This was part of the resolutions of the State Executive Council meeting. The SEC meeting was chaired by Governor Nyesom Wike.

The task force has the Commissioner of Environment, Professor Roseline Konya, Commissioner of Special Duties, Mr Emeka Onowu and the Commissioner of Information, Dr Austin Tam-George, as members.

Reports further state that they would be backed by technical experts and they would liaise with major stakeholders to resolve the environmental challenges posed by the black soot.

Briefing the media after the SEC meeting, the Commissioner of Information, Dr Austin Tam-George, stated that the resolution was reached after the Commissioner of Environment, Professor Roseline, gave preliminary results of her minister’s Investigation.

Shortly after that, it was gathered that they swung into action and shut down three companies in Port Harcourt, suspected to be emitting black carbon soot. The companies affected included two Chinese firms located at Obiri Ikwerre and Aluu axis of the state.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2012, described black carbon soot as a good indicator of combustion related air pollution and was only recently recognised as a short-lived climate force which contributes to warming the earth atmosphere.

Epidemiological studies provided sufficient evidence of the association of cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality with exposure to black carbon. According to the report,toxicological studies suggest that black carbon may operate as a universal carrier of a wide variety of chemicals of varying toxicity to the human body.

The report further indicated that black carbon is the sooty black material emitted from gas and diesel engines, cool fixed power plants and other sources that burn fossil fuel. It comprises a significant portion of particulate matter which is an air pollutant. According to the report, “black carbon is a global environmental problem that has negative implication for both human health and our climate”.

Medical experts are of the opinion that inhalation of black carbon is associated with health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and birth defects.

The hazardous implication of the soot has instigated debate across social and professional lines with both health and environmental experts proffering one solution or the other. One of such is Dr Kanu Chukwunoye, a Community Health consultant with the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH).   He said the black soot is a carbon deposit that comes from both domestic and industrial pollution, adding that the combustion takes place from car,bush burning and gas emission.

“Carbon deposit and black soot have increased in recent times. A certain level of the soot has been deposited in the air. What we are observing are the ones that are getting into the upper part of the respiratory system. The ones that can get into the lower part of the system can cause health implications like cancer,” he stated.

Dr Glory Nwogu, another Community Health consultant, said black soot was very dangerous when it got into the blood stream.

 “The ones that can get into the blood are more dangerous because they can cause serious health hazards. Such ones can trigger asthma and coughing,” he said.

Our correspondent reports that the black carbon soot emission started in October last year but that not much attention was paid to the development until late December when residents of the state became worried.

 “The soot actually started in October but people did not notice it until December when the entire atmosphere became hot”, stated a Port Harcourt resident who pleaded anonymity.

A surgeon at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Dr Furo Green, lamented that over six million people were at risk of cancer in the state.

“The implication of inhaling these hydrocarbon particles is that it can lead to acute inflammation of the airways which can precipitate asthmatic attack in individuals who are predisposed to asthma and over a long period of time, it can also precipitate chronic bronchitis. The number of people that could be affected by this might even be larger than six million because other neighbouring states are also experiencing the soot,” he said.

 The special task force set up by Governor Wike clamped down on three companies last week which included a Chinese company and AUC asphalt company. The three companies operating in Aluu Community, Ikwerre Local Government Area of the state were sealed up for allegedly operating machines that emit high magnitude of hydrocarbon into the atmosphere.

 The state Commissioner for Information, Dr Tam-George, stated that the directors of the affected companies would face prosecution in accordance with the law, and warned individuals and companies that engage in practices that pollute the air and ruin the environment to desist or face the full weight of the law.

He noted that while the state remained open to investors, the government was committed to the implementation of the United Nations declarations on the importance of fresh air and the creation of sustainable livelihoods in the communities. - Daily Trust
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