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pollution

Environmental pollution: Elephant in the room

pollutionNigeria’s population has grown tremendously since independence. Our landmass, on the other hand, has remained fairly constant. With an increase in population, there is also a proportional increase in human activities within our country. Sadly, human activities are not always positive. There are numerous human activities that are currently putting a strain on our environment and affecting it negatively.

With a projected headcount of about 250 million people in less than 10 years, it is fair to argue that our environment will feel the impact severely, if we don’t tame this wildfire before it spreads too far. We can already see the effects of environmental degradation caused by environmental pollution and, with time, the situation will worsen, unless we act fast.

When I think about environmental pollution, I think about a problem that has been overlooked for too long and is crying for attention.

Environmental pollution does not just affect us, it affects our farmlands, our marine life, elements that are necessary for survival on earth, such as water and air.

Lagos State is a city dear to my heart. I have lived in this city for as long as I can remember and it saddens me to see the current state of our environment. Plastic has maneuvered its way into our city and taken over our streets, rivers and lakes, our lives. Our gutters are stagnant and home to various foreign elements. The foul smell given off by gutters is so strong that one has no choice but to sacrifice breathing for a few seconds so as not to be impaled by the strong stench.

Why have we made such close allies with filth? It is a usual sight in Lagos to see heaps of refuse dumped right beside a waste bin. We clearly have a waste problem that needs to be tackled urgently. Improper management of our waste has tainted the aesthetic appeal of our beloved city and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other elements that are not beneficial to our health.

There is also the issue of street trading and hawking. These activities contribute to the heaps of waste that litter the city and the whole nation. Not to talk about the quantity of fumes being inhaled by these street traders or the fact that it is used as a way to get rid of expired or soon to be expired goods by certain shop owners. I have always campaigned against this common practice to the point that I raised the notion to fine the buyers not the sellers as a way to curb hawking and roadside street trading.

The air we breathe is no stranger to pollution. Our cities are littered with tanker drivers who release thick black smoke from their exhaust into the atmosphere.

Tanker drivers alone are not to blame for increased air pollution. Our factories and industries, burning of fossil fuels and indoor air pollution also contribute handsomely to a polluted atmosphere. Gas flares from oil operations are extremely harmful to our atmosphere and, sadly, policies have not been properly put in place to reduce these operations.

Even though we cannot see the effects of air pollution, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Our ozone layer, which protects ecosystems on our planet, is depleting due to the effect of air pollution. Global warming is also caused by a depletion of the ozone layer. Respiratory and heart problems can be directly traced to a polluted atmosphere and, unfortunately, we caused these problems for ourselves.

Regardless of your social class, you are directly affected by the effects of air pollution. Air that is unsafe for breathing affects us equally.

The black soot in Port Harcourt was first noticed sometime around November 2016. Residents discovered that there was a cloud of soot above them and it found its way into their lives and became a big problem. Social media campaigns were started and, from the images and videos shared online, you could see that this was not a false alarm.

Residents could not help but notice that their feet would become black after walking barefoot around the house. Clothes became black after they were been left to dry on the line. It has been almost two years since our attention was brought to this issue and nothing has been done since then.

Lives are at risk in these communities. Children are being born in these communities and their quality of life will be affected, if something is not done quickly.

Countries around the world have started to adopt renewable sources of energy and are slowly phasing out non-renewable sources of energy due to the effects on the environment. China has announced that it will ban production of petrol and diesel cars in the nearest future and I foresee other developed countries going the same route.

Nigeria, on the other hand, is entertaining rumours of a proposed increase in import duty on solar panels. How is this the way forward? Why are we still heavily dependent on generators as our major source of power? Aside from the unbearable noise pollution, we are not doing our environment any good by normalising the use of generators in the majority of our households.

According to Dike Okwelum, a medical expert and FADE volunteer who graciously contributed to this piece, since we share everything on earth with every living thing on the planet, what happens in one area affects everything, no matter how far away. There are many kinds of pollution but the ones that have the most impact on health are air, water and noise pollution.

Air, water and noise pollution

For air pollution, the effects usually depend on the length of time of exposure as well as the kind and concentration of chemicals and particles that contaminate it.

Short-term effects are irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, upper respiratory infections like bronchitis, pneumonitis, and eye inflammation like conjunctivitis. Others include headaches, nausea, anorexia, allergic skin reactions, and aggravation of medical condition in individuals with asthma, and emphysema.

Long-term effects are chronic cardiopulmonary disease. Air pollutants are mostly carcinogenic and living in highly-polluted areas puts people at risk of skin and lung cancer, as well as damage to the brain, nerves, liver, and kidneys in newborns.

Persistent coughing and wheezing is often observed among city folks in polluted areas. It is important to note that an increase in atmospheric temperature is directly proportional to increase in air pollutants.

When exposure to carbon monoxide leads to blood carboxyhaemoglobin levels in the range of 3 per cent to 10 per cent, the effect would reduce work capacity in healthy young adults, aggravate angina symptoms during exercise, and impair mental vigilance. High levels would cause headaches, dizziness, fibrinolysis, and death. And in pregnant women, it reduces fetal birth weight and causes poor developmental milestone in the index child.

Dr. Okwelum further opines that another danger to watch out for is lead poisoning. In the general population, the major source of lead is food and drink. In industries, inhalation of contaminated air may be more important. The major sources of lead in the environment are fuel additives released from automobile emissions, and from various industrial sources.

Lead is deposited near roads, and in the vicinity of lead smelters or where discarded batteries are burned. Other sources include lead water pipes, and tanks. Storage of food in lead soldered cans or pottery in which lead in the glaze and pigments has not been adequately stabilised. Children are particularly at risk if they chew and eat lead-based paints from old houses or the soil around the houses.

The earliest effect of lead poisoning is interference with body’s haemoglobin production, leading to severe anaemia. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, fatigue, lassitude, generalised aches, muscle and joint pains, abdominal discomfort, and bad taste in the mouth as well as kidney damage and encephalopathy in children.

Just like the air we breathe, water is vital to our survival. We need clean water to drink. We play in rivers, lakes, lagoons and streams. Water is a precious resource that can be easily polluted. Polluted water can cause amebiasis, typhoid fever, severe gastroenteritis like cholera and all forms of diarrhoea diseases.

Water contaminated with heavy metals like lead, pesticides and hydrocarbons can cause hormonal and reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system, and some form of birth defects in newborns.

Aside from air and water pollution, another serious but often overlooked form of pollution is noise. Noise pollution is equally as dangerous as the rest but, sadly, Nigeria has become accustomed to noise. Every evening in our homes, the sound of generators takes over the whole street and this has become so normal that we don’t pay attention to how much noise the generators are producing until they are turned off. During the day, we are constantly assaulted by blaring horns from cars and sirens from cars escorting our so-called VIPs.

The cumulative impact of noise pollution can lead to hearing loss in a person over time. Noise pollution has been directly linked to tinnitus, stress and hypertension. It can also lead to built-up aggression in a person as well as other anti-social behaviours.

We seriously need to have a discussion with ourselves about our environment. We need to not only have this discussion but to make conscious efforts to change our lifestyle and do away with things that are affecting our environment negatively.

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Online Editor: Aderonke Bello
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