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Health issues to know about soot, protective measures

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As residents of Port Harcourt and its environs grapple with the black soot, the latest atmospheric challenge they have to live with, experts have warned that long-term exposure to soot poses serious health risks, and could lead to cancer and other critical health problems, which could cause premature death.

According to National Cancer Institute of America, “Soot is a byproduct of the incomplete burning of organic (carbon-containing) materials, such as wood, fuel oil, plastics, and household refuse. The fine black or brown powder that makes up soot may contain a number of carcinogens, including arsenic, cadmium, and chromium.”

Medical Director, Charis-Med Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Olayide A. Jinadu, while shedding light on soot and the health implications caused by exposure to it said, “soot is a black tarry powder or flak-like substance consisting largely of amorphous carbon, produced by the incomplete combustion of organic matter. People are exposed to soot from various sources, namely exhaust fumes from petrol and diesel generators or cars, smoke from kerosine stoves, smoke from burning firewood in poorly ventilated areas, smoke from smelting companies and smoke from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. People who work near such companies or with such machines are especially at risk of numerous respiratory diseases, with a blanket name known as pneumoconiosis.”

“Pneumoconiosis is a consequence of long-term exposure to soot. It is the general term for lung disease caused by inhalation of mineral dust. The lungs are made up of tiny air spaces which allows for proper gaseous exchange, when individuals get exposed to soot for too long, they begin to line the walls of these air spaces (aveoli) impeding the normal ability for gaseous exchange. Pneumoconiosis makes patients prone to other respiratory disease like pneumonia, asthma and others,” he explained.

On available treatment options, he said they include preventing further exposure to silica dust. Immunisation of patients against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia. No specific therapy for pneumoconiosis cures or alters the course of the disease, though steroids are found to be beneficial. In patients with very advanced pneumoconiosis and without other significant comorbid conditions, lung transplantation should be considered.”

He added: “Pneumoconiosis can be prevented by avoiding indiscriminate burning of bushes, fossil fuels, fitting the exhaust pipes of vehicles and generators with catalytic converters and filters to drastically reduce the emission of soot and other pollutants. Adequate measures can be taken by wearing face masks and other safety gadgets for those perpetually exposed to soothy smokes.”

He added that exposures can be reduced through widespread education and enlightenment on the health hazards of soot exposure; employing other environmental friendly means to generate power, and the enforcement of laws against air pollution by the government, he advised.


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Olayide A. JinaduSoot
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