Threat of diseases as pollution levels rise

Air pollution

Air pollution

• Experts Blame Use Of Solid Fuels For Cooking,
Burning Waste, Traffic Pollution From Very Old Cars

Four major cities in Nigeria, Onitsha, Kaduna, Aba and Umuahia, were recently listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as some of the most polluted places in the world. Onitsha, which plays host to the biggest market in West Africa, Onitsha Main Market, was named as the most polluted city in the world.

Although, some Nigerian experts disagree that Onitsha is the most polluted city in the world, they however predicted epidemic of cancers, incidence of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases because of rising pollution levels in the country.

The WHO report had listed the Nigerian cities because of high level of smog, rubbish and polluted water.Last year, the World Bank reported that 94 per cent of the population in Nigeria is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines (compared to 72 per cent on average in sub-Saharan Africa in general) and air pollution damage costs about one per cent post of Gross National Income.

A medical practitioner and Director at Medical Art Centre Maryland Ikeja, Lagos, Prof. Oladapo A. Ashiru, disagrees with WHO that Onitsha is the most polluted city in the world.

The Professor of Anatomy and Consultant Reproductive Endocrinologist told The Guardian: “I do not agree that Onitsha is the most polluted city in the world because Onitsha under the governance of Mr. Peter Obi three years ago, underwent a transformation where both road construction and thorough environmental sanitation was observed, making Onitsha clean again.”

A consultant pharmaceutical chemist at University of Lagos, Dr Chimezie Anyakora, who has probed and documented the environmental impact of crude oil based pollutants, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) also disagrees that Onitsha is the most polluted city in the world.

PAHs are a group of organic contaminants that form from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, such as crude oil, petroleum products, coal and gasoline.

PAHs are an environmental concern because they are toxic to aquatic life and because several are suspected human carcinogens. The result of the probe was compiled in a book titled “Environmental Impact of Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons.”

Anyakora told The Guardian: “I lived in Onitsha for many years but I am not sure of its present pollution status, but like most African cities with intense economic activities I expect a high level of pollution in Onitsha. But not only Onitsha but various other cities across Nigeria.”

What are the health implications of pollution?
According to the WHO, about three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Major sources of air pollution include, inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

Ashiru, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, United States (U.S.) explained: “Environmental pollution consist of five major sources, air, water, land, noise and light. Its implication will include; airinhaling environmental toxins such as carbondioxide (CO2) and so on can lead to medical conditions such as lung cancer.

“Water – water pollution usually come from industrial wastes entering major sources of water example lakes and rivers. Medical condition associated with water pollution can range from simple diarrhoea to a more deadly illness like Sepsis. There is also a very serious one from insects, fleas, tics, mosquitoes-transmitting diseases such as malaria and lyme, which is even more dangerous.

“Soil – The major concern in soil pollution is Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) released from our refrigerator, air conditions, deodorants and insect repellents; all leading to damage in our ozone layer and eventually global warming. Noise pollution from aircrafts, trucks and high intensity sonar effects and light pollution from over illumination and astronomical interference are very harmful to our environment with long term side effects like deafness and poor eyesight.”

Anyakora said studies had shown that more Nigerians are at a greater risk of developing different types of cancer due to exposure to crude oil pollutants.

He predicts that if nothing were done urgently to address the issue, there would be increased cases of cancer in Nigeria by 2025, especially in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

According to the studies led by Anyakora, more than 25 per cent of Nigerians are at an increased risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic chemicals from crude oil pollution, PAHs. They also suggested that PAHs could be genotoxic; that is, the damage caused can be inherited.

Previous studies had also indicated that PAHs caused a decrease in sperm count and fertility in crude oil-polluted environment of the Niger Delta. However, besides the people of the Niger Delta, the studies indicate that other Nigerians, even children, are exposed to high level of crude oil pollution and are at the risk of developing cancer. One of the two studies is the first Nigerian research linking PAHs to cancer.

“In the next 10 years, I see a big problem here. With rising cases of oil spills in the Niger Delta region and our overdependence on petroleum products, we are going to see so many cases of cancer,” Anyakora told The Guardian.

Anyakora is now chief of party of United States Pharmacopeia (USP) in Nigeria. USP is an affiliate of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

He said health consequences of pollution depends on the type of pollution but pollution has dire consequences on human health and the tragedy is that this is highly underestimated.

The pharmaceutical chemist said another rising concern is pharmaceutical waste. Anyakora explained: “These are caused by improper disposal of unused and expired medicine. Even in the US this is becoming a rising concern. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified pharmaceutical wastes among the top five “emerging” contaminants affecting human and ecological health.

This has led to a renewed interest in this new field, which is a meeting point of pharmaceutical analysis, toxicology and environmental science. The environmental concentrations of these compounds are generally of magnitude below therapeutic doses, but such low level exposures could nonetheless pose risks.”

According to a study titled “Environmental Health Effects of Exposure to Air Pollution in Industrialized Areas” by Otti, V.I. and Ogbuagu F.U from the Department of Civil Engineering, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, “The respiratory system is the primary indicator of air pollution effects in humans, as carbon dioxide diffuses through the capillary wall into the alveolus, while oxygen diffuses out of the alveolus into the blood cell.”

The study published in journal Civil and Environmental Research noted: “The difference in partial pressure of each of the gas causes it to move from the higher to lower respiratory track, causing a great cardio-respiratory ailment amongst the heavy smokers and people living in industrial areas. Air pollution, example, among former workers of Nkalagu cement industry in Enugu State aggravate some chronic respiratory disease like Bronchial Asthma.

“Carbon monoxide, an air pollutant reacts with haemoglobin in the blood to form carboxylhaemoglobin (COHb), which effectively deprives the blood of oxygen. The excess COHb can cause a severe heart disease, which can limit the patient from performing certain exercise. Ferris (1978) stated that a concentration of 20ppm of carbon monoxide for eight hours will result in a carboxyl haemoglobin level of about 2.8 per cent and the average concentration of carbon monoxide inhaled in cigarette smoke is 200 to 400ppm. This shows that in some industrialized cities, their sensitive population is those with heart and circulating ailments, chronic pulmonary disease and developing fetuses.

“The effects of hazardous air pollutants in the lungs of most industrial workers are generally higher than in the ambient air and this is obvious because the low level of toxic air is found in ambient air Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) also has effect that can result in cough and irritation of respiratory tract. According to Hardoy, (2001), at 5ppm, Nitrogen dioxide has a pungent odour and the concentration in tobacco smoke is high, can slightly increase the respiratory illness and decrease in pulmonary function associated with concentration of Nitrogen oxide.

Solutions
Ashiru recommended: “Solutions will include public awareness and information about how these toxins are produced, their effects to our environment and how they (the public) can help reduce it production to the minimal.

“Simple things we can do to reduce pollution includes, walking instead of driving when it can be avoided, driving hybrid cars, stop smoking, never use open fire to dispose of wastes, observe 3Rs of solid waste management that is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, buy local foods and goods that are eco friendly, plant more trees, do not litter, always consider environmental impact of you businesses.

“Government can set up environmental protection agencies to regulate greenhouse emissions. They can build incinerators at approved location, which are not close to habitable places. They can build recycle plants where waste can be converted to energy. The Government can setup alternative, efficient and reliable transport system leading to less environmental pollution.

They can setup anti pollution policies such as carbon taxes, pollution permits and subsidy policies on alternative energy. “Sensitise the public on hazards associated with environmental pollution by organising outreach groups that will deliver seminars and lectures to the people. They should encourage proper waste disposal. Donations in forms of recycle bins; protection gloves and so on should be made. These organisations can help fight deforestation and work closely with the environmental impact assessment agencies (EIA) by providing intelligence.”

Anyakora said the solution to this is simple. He explained: “All relevant regulators should step up. It is a public health issue. Citizens need to be educated on the health implication of incessant contamination of the environment. The infectious disease burden in Nigeria is already high and the non-infectious disease burden is also rising at an alarming rate and environmental pollution contributes significantly to that.”

On what residents should do to protect themselves from these consequences, Anyakora said: “It is a problem that has universal scope. Pollution at one point can have impact on people living very far away. Once the ground water gets polluted, there is no boundary. Everyone is exposed. Across the world governments are bringing tighter regulation to protect public health. It is the government’s duty. It should not be a voluntary decision of the residents.”

What must the government do? The pharmaceutical chemist said: “The government should step up. We are losing a lot of money on health and lost man-hours due to disease burden.”

Anyakora further stated: “We should put pressure on each other to safeguard the environment. It is everyone’s business. If your neighbor is polluting the environment, he is harming you. The harm may be more dangerous than the man stabbing you. So speak up, do something, put pressure on government to do something, otherwise sooner or later you or your loved one will be tackling one ill health or the other as a result of that negligence. It is quite painful to see many people who can contribute significantly to nation building with their energy and youth go down with some ill health that is avoidable. We need to minimize this to the best of our ability.”

In this article:
Prof. Oladapo A. AshiruWHO


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