•Govt goes tough, shuts down 3 companies, to prosecute directors
•Wash your hands; cover your food and windows, experts warn
By Davies Iheamnachor
PORT HARCOURT—ABOUT six million residents of Rivers State face the risk of developing cancer of the lung and other respiratory problems, following the never-ending raining of cancerous hydrocarbon elements, commonly referred to as black soot on their environment.
Dr. Furo Green, a specialist and consultant surgeon at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Port Harcourt, who raised the alarm in an interview with NDV, decried the impact of the black soot, saying that six million Rivers people were at the risk of cancer over the hydrocarbon.
Magnitude of hydrocarbon
Similarly, a consultant surgeon and the deputy chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, Special Projects and Linkages University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Dr. Ochele Emmanuel, confirmed that the hydrocarbons were capable of causing cancer. However, the Rivers State Government, according to our findings, had shut down three companies in the state for allegedly operating machines that emit high magnitude of hydrocarbon into the atmosphere.
One of the residents, who spoke to our reporter, Mrs. Chika Chibuike, asserted: “I am aware of the black soot, before you wake in the morning, you will see black stains in your room. If you use a white cloth to clean the chairs or the television, it will be as if you cleaned charcoal. The thing is happening every day. When you clean your nose, you will also notice that youR nose is black. I heard that it can cause cancer but God is protecting me and my family. Although I am afraid of that, so I try as much to cover our food and close the windows.”
FG should monitor multinational companies: Dr. Green asserted that currently in the state, many people were at the risk of developing cancer of the lung and other respiratory problems following prolong exposure to the black soot caused by hydrocarbon, urging the federal government to monitor the activities of multinational companies that are into hydrocarbon processing.
Green said: “We all suddenly noticed an increase in discharge of black powdery matter in the environment, which the Ministry of Environment has narrowed to hydrocarbon. The implication of inhaling these hydrocarbon particles is that it can lead to acute inflammation of the airways, which can precipitate to hyper stimulation of the airway and actually precipitate asthmatic attack in individuals, who are predisposed to asthma.
“And over a long period of time it can precipitate chronic obstruction of the airways, which we refer to as chronic bronchitis. So when this condition goes on for a long time, it results to chronic respiratory conditions that can end up as malignancy or even kill the individual. The figure of people affected by this might even be larger than six million because other neighbouring states are also experiencing the soot, and even recently parts of Lagos State have been reported to also experience it.”
Green stated: “Hydrocarbons after prolong exposure can predispose to cancer, especially of the lung, because that is the area where it is settled, but there are other long lasting conditions that may arise from hydrocarbon poison, such as infertility as demonstrated by Prof. Georgewill of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, where he was able to demonstrate that fertility is significantly affected by hydrocarbon poisoning.
“But in children, the effect can be unpredictable, a child that is very normal now could actually develop an acute respiratory problem, meaning that a child, who has never had asthma, can actually precipitate to one, and if care is not taken the child could die from asphyxia. So the effects of these particles are more pronounced in children right now, but over a period of time, it will lead to lung condition.”
Dr. Green advised: “Wash your hands as often as possible because even where you wash your hands, you will see that the lather of the soap itself is black. Children should be protected, close your windows, wash your fruits and cover your food to reduce the loads of these hydrocarbons. Also, clean your floor and furniture with moist towels to reduce the accumulation of the soot; and when you are exposed outside, wear a nose-mask or cover your nose with handkerchief to minimize the volume that is inhaled.”
Instant respiratory problem: The other consultant surgeon, Dr. Emmanuel noted that the immediate effect on people is respiratory problem and called on the government to clamp down on some human activities that introduce hydrocarbon into the atmosphere.
“This case of black soot has been, we know that whatever you burn, turns into hydrocarbon substances. We also know from the medical literature that the hydrocarbon agents have been implicated for causation of cancers for virtually all parts of the body, cancer of the lungs, cancer of the oesophagus, cancer of the stomach, cancer of the pancreas and cancer of the skin.
So the issue of the soot should not confound anybody, cancer may take long to manifest, but are we going to wait till 15 to 20 years when 10 persons out of 100 develop cancer before we confront the problem headlong? We may not have the resource to face such challenges at that time.”
Dr. Emmanuel counseled: “The government should do everything possible to ensure that our society is clean, they can do that by ensuring that illegal refineries, the petroleum industries, where there is gas flaring and where there is release of effluent into the atmosphere is reduced to the minimum even the automobile and artisans, who burn tires often. We know that it will have a cumulative effect one day. Among them for now, people will begin to develop respiratory problem, skin irritation. The government needs to intervene and the citizens should be educated.”
Govt to prosecute offenders
Meanwhile, the Task Force on Black Soot set by the state government to investigate and resolve the environmental challenge, penultimate Saturday, closed down three companies operating in the state, Chinese Government Company, CGC, HSH Engineering Company and AUC Ashphalt Company for allegedly operating machines that emit high magnitude of hydrocarbon into the atmosphere.
Commissioner of Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, said the decision to set up the task force was taken at the State Executive Council meeting based on a preliminary report of its ministerial investigation presented to the council by the Commissioner of Environment, Prof. Roseline Konya.
Dr. Tam- George explained that the three companies operating in Aluu community, Ikwerre Local Government Area of the state, were sealed up for aggravated air pollution and breach of environmental laws.
He noted that directors of the affected companies would face prosecution in accordance with the law and warned all 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. The commissioner said that while the state remained open for investment, government was committed to the implementation of the United Nations, UN Declarations on the importance of fresh air and creation of sustainable livelihoods in the communities.
Findings by govt: Tam-George asserted: “The asphalt plant was found to be producing thick black smog out of the furnace in the process of burning asphalt, heavily polluting the air. The Asphalt plant was immediately shut down by the task force. All the directors of the company will be prosecuted according to the law. The public is, therefore, advised to cooperate with the task force by providing useful information on black soot.”
Immediate past Commissioner for Health, Dr. Theophilus Odagme, who spoke to NDV two days before Governor Nyesom Wike relieved him of his job, told NDV, that that the contents of the black particle have not been determined, but government had sent samples for test.