By Emma Amaize & Chioma Onuegbu
This report which was first published yesterday continues today with highlights of the oil exploration-related pollution and health challenges being suffered by residents of Bayelsa and Rivers states as well as other states of the Niger Delta.
Corroded roofs, crumbling structures
Bayelsa has had a long history of gas flaring being the place where crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria with the people exposed to the hazards associated with the industry.
Many of the communities are without electricity, their daily source of light being the orange colour flame illuminating the night from the flare sites in their environment, and the main cause of acid rain in the region. Sadly, many of the communities have no potable water and rely mainly on rain water and their equally polluted rivers, creeks and rivulets for domestic use and consumption.
The people have had to contend with rusty roofs caused by vagaries of the elements as a result of gas flaring, which cause acid rain and speed up the decay of building materials, especially roofing sheets and paints.
We change our roofs regularly— Ukpo
A community leader from Imiringi, one of the several communities hosting gas flare sites in the state, Anthony Ukpo, said: “We have experienced acid rain several times in the past, except that it doesn’t occur too frequently. However, most of our people are ignorant and unaware of it. As a matter of fact, our roofs do not last long. We change our roofs more frequently than people elsewhere, that I can categorically and authoritatively state.”
No ailment linked to acid rain yet – Dr Anthony
Though Dr. Ihedioha Anthony, the Medical Director of Christ the King Catholic Hospital Imiringi, Ogbia Local Government Area, could not confirm any ailments attributed to acid rain, he highlighted that there were other ailments from oil related issues like polluted water sources and environmental degradation.
He said: “We do not have clear-cut cases of ailments arising from acid rain but what is prevalent from the patients we have here are water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, vomiting, among others, arising from polluted sources of drinking water in these areas.”
An industry source in the area told Vanguard INSIGHT that the completion of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC-sponsored gas turbine plant at Imiringi to provide electricity for the four host communities of Imiringi, Elebele, Otuseaga and Oruma will help curb the gas being flared in the area.
Alagoa, environmentalist demands scientific study
Also, residents of Tombia in Yenagoa Local Government Area had in the past complained of air pollution, allegedly emanating from oil and gas facilities located near the community, a development that prompted renowned Niger Delta environmentalist, Comrade Alagoa Morris, to call for the conduct of studies to measure the adverse impact of a gas plant located in Gbarantoru operated by Shell.
“We have got reports of air pollution, very high temperature caused by gas flare, poor fish catch from the Nun River, amongst others. There is a need for studies by scientific experts to compare results with the baseline studies in the EIA report,” Morris had stated.
The story is not different at Angiama in the deep swamp of Southern Ijaw council area, as according to Chris, an indigene of the area:“We have suffered a lot of damage as a result of the daily gas flared. It is only in this part of the world that you see people living close to pipeline and also gas flare site. Our creeks/rivulets, economic trees, food crops, fishing nets/traps, have been impacted seriously. Even the water that the ordinary man can fetch from the creeks and drink is severely polluted.”
According to him: “Apart from the pollution caused to our land and water, we also suffer atmospheric pollution. Our roofing sheets no longer last as they deteriorate as soon as they are laid on the roofs. We cannot be suffering all these things simply because we are having oil around us.”
Experts fear cancer eruption in PH, environs
In Rivers State, the scariest manifestation of acid rain as a consequence of ceaseless emission of hydrocarbon into the environment has been the case of soot ravaging the populace, especially in Port Harcourt, the state capital and environs. Aside the massive oil pollution of Ogoni land, the soot has been the most unsettling to Rivers people in recent years.
From surface discomfort being experienced by the majority of the population, ranging from excessive dust in homes, clothing and cars, impaired breathing from inhaling the soot to the destructive corrosive force on roofs and sundry property, experts have indicated that the soot is carcinogenic and likely to cause different forms of cancer to residents in the foreseeable future under prolonged exposure.
Like other cities exposed to largely uncontrolled flares from oil and gas producing firms, petrochemicals and other industries and machines that emit high magnitude of hydrocarbon into the atmosphere, the soot has been part of the life of people living in Port Harcourt and environs for years.
The heightened health scare posed by the soot in Rivers is, in part, said to have been aggravated by rampant operation of illegal refineries with indiscriminate emissions from the crude locally fabricated machinery employed. This was further compounded by reactive burning of the illegal refineries by security operatives whenever they confront the perpetrators.
Start fight against cancer now – Dr. Emmanuel
Dr. Ochele Emmanuel, consultant surgeon and deputy chairman, Medical Adversary Committee, Special Projects and Linkages University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH, said: “This case of black soot has been there. We know whatever you burn turns into hydrocarbon substance.
“From medical literature, it is established that hydrocarbon agents have been implicated for causation of cancers for virtually all parts of the body, cancer of the lungs, cancer of the aesophagus, cancer of the stomach, cancer of the pancreas and cancer of the skin. So the issue of the soot should not confound anybody. The degeneration into cancer may take long but are we going to wait till 15 to 20 years when 10 persons out of 100 develop cancer? We do not have the resources to face such challenges. We know it will have cumulative effect one day. For now people will begin to develop respiratory problems, skin irritations.
6,000 Rivers people risk cancer – Dr. Green
Consultant surgeon at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Port Harcourt and former chairman, Nigeria Medical Association, Rivers chapter, Dr. Furo Green, deploring black soot, stressed that six million Rivers people are at risk of cancer over hydrocarbon. The spectrum of diseases from hydrocarbon pollution, he stressed, ranges from asthma, chronic bronchitis, asphyxia to even infertility, with children most vulnerable, adding that if it is not checked over a period of time, it can progress to cancer and even death.
Green explained: “Inhaling these hydrocarbon particles can lead to acute inflammation of the airways which can graduate to hyper stimulation of the airway and actually precipitate asthmatic attack in individuals predisposed to asthma. Over a long period it can precipitate chronic obstruction of the airways referred to as chronic bronchitis, possibly end up as malignancy or even kill the individual.
“Hydrocarbons after prolonged exposure can predispose to cancer, especially of the lung, because that is the area where it is settled. Other long-lasting conditions that may arise from hydrocarbon poison include infertility as demonstrated by Prof. Georgewill of the Department of Pharmacology at the UPTH, where he was able to demonstrate that fertility is significantly affected by hydrocarbon poisoning.
“But in children the effect can be unpredictable. A child very normal now could actually develop acute respiratory problem, meaning that a child who never had asthma can actually precipitate to one and if care is not taken the child could die from asphyxia. So the effect of these particles are more pronounced in children right now but over a period of time, it will lead to lungs condition.”
Stain everywhere – Mrs. Chibuike
Sharing her experience just like several other affected residents, a dweller, Mrs. Chika Chibuike, informed thus: “I am aware of the black soot. You wake in the morning and you see black stains in your room. Use a white clothe to clean the chairs or the television, it will be as if you cleaned charcoal. The thing is happening every day. When you pick or clean your nose you will also notice the black deposits. I heard that it can cause cancer but God is protecting me and my family. That is why I try as much as possible to cover our food and close the windows.”
In the heat of public worry over the soot, the Rivers State government, through Dr. Theophilus Odagme, then Commissioner of Health, had declared that the contents of the black particle had not been determined, but that government had sent samples for test towards ensuring that the situation was brought under control and to guarantee that its effect on health of residents of the state was mitigated.
A state government task force then followed in Aluu, a Port Harcourt suburb, with closure of three companies: Chinese Government Company, CGC; HSH Engineering Company and AUC Ashphalt Company, for allegedly operating machines emitting high magnitude of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.
Industry regulator, National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency, NOSDRA, on its part, said it would engage air quality experts. Presenting measures to be adopted to body of heads of stakeholders, including security agencies in the state, international oil companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations, OluWai-Ogosu, an environmentalist, said plans have been split into short, medium and long term actions.
Kenneth Aroh, Secretary of a Technical Committee to that effect, told the stakeholders that, “Experts will be engaged to carry out 24 hours monitoring of soot, in strategic zones in Port Harcourt and environs to find out source and origin.
“The state has been demarcated into 18 zones for easy assessment by the experts; there is the availability of sampling equipment to cover the zones. A long term measure which would last for six months and above would commence immediately the first phase is concluded and Air Quality Index, AQI, would be established in the state.”
Director of NOSDRA in the state, Mr. Cyrus Nkangwu, expressed satisfaction with the response of the key stakeholders over the call to find solution to the pollution. Nkangwu also advised the public to cultivate the habit of planting of trees. Laudable as these measures seem, no significant improvement seems to be in sight for residents as the soot remains everywhere.
Navy’s rethink: The Nigerian Navy in a bid to sustain its unending fight against illegal oil refineries without aggravating air pollution through indiscriminate burning of impounded illegal refining machinery, has introduced application of Swamp-Buggy Operation.
Navy announced the new measure when the Rivers State special committee headed by the Commissioner for Environment, Professor Roseline Konya, visited to cross-pollinate ideas on concerted efforts at arresting the soot menace.
The Commander, NNS Pathfinder Port Harcourt, Commodore, William Kayoda said: “There is swamp buggy operation going on. The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral, has assured us that he will give us every needed support to aid our fight against illegal refinery and the task must be carried out in full. The cry now is the soot ravaging the state and the new approach now is the use of swamp buggy to see that we continue in this fight.”
Warning: Dr. Emmanuel, however, cautioned: “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 release of effluent into the atmosphere is reduced to the minimum, even the automobile and artisans who burn tires often.
“Federal Ministry of Environment should devise a way of monitoring the IOCs and oil processing companies to actually know how much pollution they are emitting into the environment. If we have had such audit before now, it would have been easy to know what is happening in these companies. It is time the Federal Government and its related agencies look more closely at what is happening at these mega hydrocarbon industries that are operating in the Niger Delta.”
To the public, he further cautioned: “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. 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 minimise the volume inhaled.”
Problem endemic in A’Ibom
Eket, Esit Eket, Eastern Obolo, Ibeno, Mbo and Onna local government areas in Akwa Ibom are the epicenters of oil exploration and exploitative activities. These oil-producing areas are, therefore, affected by the attendant adverse effects of unbridled oil production by the local and multinational oil and gas companies. One of such damning effects is the acid rain apparently occasioned by the unabated gas flaring by these firms.
The main source of these acids in rainwater in these communities is the Exxon Mobil Producing gas flaring operations at nearby onshore and offshore locations. The consistent flaring has left a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, where activities of the oil exploration and exploitation are greatest. The roofs are covered in black soot, and are corrosive, while the ground waters are oily and sticky. Residents of Ibeno are not happy with the obvious lack of social amenities such as potable water, hospital, among others, in their area.
The huge ball of fire like a massive oven spewing chemical substances into the atmosphere becomes visible as one approaches the Exxon Mobil Terminal in Mkpanak, Ibeno Local Government Area. For close to five decades, the Mkpanak community has lived in the throes of these adverse oil production activities, while the facility has produced millions of barrels of crude oil, which rake in billions of naira into its coffers, while the community has lived in abject poverty.