The destruction of illegal refineries in Rivers State is necessary. However the consequence of the destruction has left a trail of pollution, harmful health wise to the residents of the State. ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, reports.
For close to two years now, residents of Port Harcourt, following the continuous raining of black soot that emit into the air as a result of activities of oil companies operating in Rivers State. However, experts believe that majority of this soot emit from illegal refining sites scattered across the rivers and creeks in the state as well as from the destruction of such sites by security agencies that are out to stop illegal refining of petroleum products.
On several occasions, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike have had cause to caution security agents, especially the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) over the destruction of such sites that had led to the soot.
Speaking recently, Wike appealed to the Nigerian Army and other security agencies to adopt more refined ways of destroying illegal refineries in the state, pointing out that the methods currently adopted by security agencies in destroying illegal refineries are harmful to the environment.
The governor noted that while it is necessary to stop the illegal refineries from operating, such actions must not expose the people to extensive and prolonged danger. He said, “The outcome of the uncontrolled destruction of illegal refineries without precautionary measures forms part of the reasons why the state is suffering from black soot.
“The present mode of destroying illegal refineries is negatively affecting our environment. Everywhere across the state you see black soot deposited on surfaces of buildings, cars and other structures. “The state government is working hard to resolve this environmental challenge, but we need the cooperation of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies on the manner they destroy illegal refineries.”
Wike, who stated that his administration will continue to take steps to protect the state environment, noted that the health of Rivers people depend on the environment, hence the state government will work with all stakeholders to stop the soot.
To Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, the senator representing Rivers South-East senatorial district in the National Assembly, there was need for a summit of stakeholders to find a solution to the issue of sooth in Rivers State.
Abe, who demanded that a national health emergency be declared in the state, noted that the sooth poses great danger to the health of residence of the state as it can be visibly seen on cars, houses and in the atmosphere.
While noting that the time for politics is over and attention should now focus on solving the problems of the people, the senator said, “I want to use this opportunity to say to all of us that the real problem boarding Rivers people now, these past few days that I have been in the state, is the sooth that we are facing. I think we should come together and look for a way to declare a national health emergency in Rivers state.
“You will wake up in the morning your car is black you will come out in the night the floor is black, and if everything around you is turning black you begin to wonder what is happening to your lungs, what is happening to your children .what is the impact of these things on the long term consequences .Those who live here from January to December .what is happening to us and what are we doing about it.
“Nobody seems to have a clear answer. I think we should suspend all politics and come together and arrest this situation one way or the other. If we all come together to bring our federal connections and resources, the state brings its own resources, we call in the academic community, we call in the international community, we have all the resources we can put together. I believe that whatever is causing this problem we can find a solution and bring an end to it.
“People believe black people don’t take environmental issues seriously, I don’t think this soot is an environmental issue, it is a looming health calamity that can have consequences we do not bargain for. So I think we should even come together and do something urgently. Let us even call a summit or a seminar where we will all come together to brainstorm on this thing and see what we can do about it. “
To a medical expert, Dr. Furo Green, 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.
Green, who is a specialist and consultant surgeon at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Port Harcourt, decried the impact of the black soot and called on the Federal Government to monitor the activities of multinational companies that are into hydrocarbon processing.
He 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Another medical expert, Dr. Ochele Emmanuel, said, “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.”