The Plight of Air Quality Management in Rivers #StopTheSoot (2)

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Port Harcourt; Air Quality is so bad that it can be seen through the lens of a camera [Photo culled from naij.com]

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A 2014 study by Vincent Weli for the Centre for Disaster Risk Management, Port Harcourt showed significantly high levels of PMs in areas of Rivers like Choba and Okirika 1. In comparison with the present situation it may be worth the trivial enquiry against a situation where residents of these same areas are complaining about “black soot” literally falling from the sky.

The adverse effects of air pollution as it relates with Nigeria, are not news. In a WHO sponsored study carried out in Rivers State, Nwachukwu et al in 2012 2 recorded the prevalence of respiratory conditions that ranged from chronic bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis to others as serious as cerebrospinal meningitis. All of which could be argued to have been induced directly or indirectly from extremely mismanaged air quality with exceedance levels in relative exponents when compared with WHO guidelines. Another study between 2008 and 2013 by Umoh et al 3, also ascertained that up until 2003, respiratory illnesses were in fact, the second leading cause of death in Nigeria with a staggering 67% of reported cases of respiratory distress being diagnosed with tuberculosis to point out just one. All that is left now, is a comprehensive comparison on Air Quality between states to show the best and worst performers, comparing them on a global stage and against WHO instituted guidelines. This will put in perspective the Nigerian attitude towards Air Quality Management and the implied welfare of her citizens. (This will be done as soon as data is made available. You know, to be very honest, sometimes I feel like Nigeria is trying to kill us all but I just dont know how to rationalise it.)

The Port Harcourt Refinery in Alesa Eleme is Nigeria’s oldest refinery. Built in 1965, it holds a processing capacity of 60,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Okirika, a town that lies in the environs of Alesa Eleme is famed locally for being the location for one of Nigeria’s busiest docks and accommodating the Port Harcourt refinery. Okirika is a majorly rural settlement that cannot boast of many of non-oil industries working around it. However, it continues to suffer because in response to complaints by the residents, the authorities reportedly remain insistent on “sampling” the falling soot and making efforts to “determine” its origins and blaming the soot on everything from burning tyres to illegal refineries while they disregard the fingers of the indigenous residents that collectively point to one source: the refineries. It should also be added that the news about falling soot comes at a time when the government has been announcing widespread crackdowns on illegal refining operations. This raises questions on how practical it is to deduce that there are fewer illegal refineries operating but somehow creating more pollution than in past situations.

In the thread of tweets below, a few twitter users emotionally share their experiences through pictures and the hashtag #StopTheSoot

Handling the soot is surprisingly perhaps the easiest of the problems as pollution limiting devices like thermal oxidisers that act by introducing heat and excess air into the chimneys with the soot particulates (primarily carbon), completely oxidising them into carbon dioxide are not new technology. Electrostatic precipitators that use static electricity to attract and trap particulates preventing things like soot from getting out of the refinery complex are devices that have existed since the 70s. Particulate Filters as well, were one of the primordial means of controlling the menace of particulate air pollution in the world and they can be created by literally putting suitable fabrics into closed channels through which the industrial emissions would ordinarily escape. These are just some of the solution to curb the spread of particulates and perhaps retrofitting the flue gas stacks (chimneys) of the refinery is the least that could be done in preserving human health and wellbeing in Port Harcourt.

However, perhaps the single most important factor in limiting occurrences such as these would be creating potent laws in the land that protect the health and wellbeing of her people. Environmental legislation and enforcement are two issues whose importance in an increasingly industrialised world cannot be understated. As of today, environmental legislation in Nigeria centres mainly on managing oil spills, environmental sanitation and management of industrial waste. Others, albeit seemingly unrelated in technical contexts as they apply more to areas of transportation and economics, centre on natural resource management, water ways management and regulation, textiles and even construction. However the case may be, increasing focus and funding to agencies like NESREA – the primary environmental enforcement agency in Nigeria, while the public is made more aware about their roles and functions is extremely crucial because how effectively environmental issues may be tackled depend on how appropriately and accurately they are reported. In time, we would have make investments in the field of environmental monitoring and remote sensing so environmental issues may be tackled with even greater effectiveness -in time.

In the case of Air Pollution and Air Quality Management, legislative development of a Clean Air Act (this writer has a draft) where standardised guidelines, thresholds and strategies concerning emissions of air pollutants from industries and vehicular traffic and punishments with severity ranging from fines (interpretation of the Polluter Pays Principle) to jail terms  has to be instituted and enforced. Thus, preventing further instances like “soot deposition” in Rivers and other regions, bringing them under long-term control and giving every Nigerian a better chance at a healthier life through breathing cleaner air.

Our friends at TouchPH sent this out to inform people on ways to live hygienically and manage the effects as soot continues to fall. Please share this with as many people as possible, especially those resident in Port Harcourt.

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A few tips on how to stay safe under the present atmospheric conditions

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