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Combatting the dangers of operating generator indoors

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Tragedy struck four days ago when a family of five was found dead in Igboh Community in Etche local Government Council area of Rivers state.

Neighbours alleged that the family died of suffocation from the fumes they inhaled from their generating set.

It was learnt that the family kept their generating set in their bathroom on Monday night until dawn of Tuesday.

Concerned neighbours who did not see the family wake up on Tuesday morning were curious, as several calls were placed to reach them. When there was no response from the apartment, the neighbours forced the entrance door open and found them lying dead.

Their lifeless bodies were later deposited in a morgue at Umuebulu in Etche amidst wailing by friends and neighbours, while the Paramount ruler of Igboh, Eze Samuel Amaechi, who confirmed the incident, described it as sad and a tragedy to the Kingdom.

Although, the only survivor in that family, Victory Monye, 13, who raised the alarm on the death of his parents and three siblings, was rushed to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. He died five days after making the number of corpses six.

The same fate struck a family of seven who were found dead on Akpata Street in Egor area of Edo state as a result of inhaling fumes from their generator set.

Neighbours found the corpse of the victim identified as Tochukwu Okwueze and his wife alongside their five children in the early hours of the next day.

It was gathered that the deceased family reportedly put on their generator set and kept it in the kitchen throughout the night.

The man was taken to a private hospital after he was rescued, while bodies of the dead victims were taken to the Central Hospital morgue.

The growing cases of deaths from generator fumes have raised fears in the country on the safety of using generator set indoors.

Many have attribute the cause of these deaths, which wipes out an entire family, showing no mercy to the to epileptic power supply, which has forced many Nigerians to rely on electricity generating sets as a must-have household items in most homes.

The industrial settlement of Obajana, in the Lokoja area of Kogi State, was thrown into mourning following the discovery of the decomposing bodies of a man, his wife and their two children, who were suspected to have been killed by fumes from the generator in their house.

It was learnt that the victim, identified as John Ayodele was reported to have been seen last a days prior to his death.

Anxiety set in when calls to his mobile telephone went unanswered.

His cousin, Richard Asaje, said people had gone to check on him at home following the stench emanating from his house, adding that policemen from the Obajana division were also alerted to the suspicion.

When the door was forced open, the decomposing bodies were discovered.

Asaje explained that the generator fumes were suspected as the cause of the deaths following the discovery of a generator on the premises.

A study by Nigerian researchers at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) shows that generator fumes contribute significantly to the atmospheric level of Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and that the level is dependent on the distance from the point of generation

However, a major gas, carbon monoxide (CO), which is released from the generators, has been considered to be poisonous, leading to the cause of these deaths.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas produced by burning any type of fuel/gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal.  It can kill you quickly and is called the silent killer because of its odorless, colorless, tasteless and non-irritating.
According to experts, the early signs of CO exposure, if ignored or when the concentration is very high, a person may lose consciousness and be unable to escape the danger.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning happens when you breathe too much carbon monoxide. It becomes dangerous it replaces the oxygen in the human blood.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA), the optimal range of oxygen in the air for humans runs between 19.5 and 23.5 percent, anything below 19.5 percent is considered oxygen-deficient and could lead to suffocation and sometimes death.

A Professor at the School of Population Health, University of Western Australia, who is also a Conjoint Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Niyi Awofeso said over 90 percent of businesses and 30 percent of homes have diesel-powered generators, meaning that there are currently about 15 million generators in use in Africa.

He said addressing electricity supply shortfalls for most Nigerians means procurement and installation of generators, whose emissions poses greater risks to human health and the environment due to proximity to homes and prolonged duration of use.

Health risk of generator fumes
Studies have shown that excess of CO can lead to severe health conditions and most time lead to death.
The Principal Medical Officer, family Medicine Department, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Dr Chukwu Christopher told The Guardian that the generators do not completely burn, there by producing carbon monoxide, which mixes with the oxygen being transported in the blood vessel.

He said the carbon monoxide exhausts the hemoglobin to form Carboxyl hemoglobin, which is irreversible; adding that the effect leads to a quiet and slow death of the person involved.

“It is just like immediately there is no power supply all equipment shut down like magic and that is why the people die quietly, you never really see any struggle because the energy the person is supposed to use to struggle is not there. There is no oxygen to power the energy; the nerves don’t even notice it because there is no oxygen for the nerves to be able to sense that something is going wrong,” he said.

He said the CO drains almost 80 percent of the oxygen in the human body adding that once this happens, the brain gets damage within minutes, while other organs take hours to damage, which is why people die the following morning because the CO takes gradual process to kill.

“The softer part of the brain would die first, so if it leaves that harder part. The person maybe able to reason, but the person may not be able to remember things, so the person would have poor memory, slow reaction to danger, even when the person gets hurt, he will have slow reaction to feel hurt.

According to the Medical Director of Ibadan City Hospital, Oyo state, Dr Inaolaji Bolaji, the degree of health implication depends on the level of intoxication
“If the intoxication is severe, the person dies, if not, it may lead to some neurological deficit depending on how severe the exposure is and this neurological deficit range from muscle tone, irregular movement of the muscles to even comma or loss of consciousness,” he said.

Regional surveys suggest that Nigeria currently has the highest prevalence of asthma in Africa, after South Africa, as its prevalence among adults increased from 5.1–7.5 percent in 2003 to 13.1–14.2 percent in 2006, which is caused by the toxicity of the generator fumes.

Also, the air pollutant has been associated with the growing cases of cancers, premature birth, low weight babies and childbirth complications such as neo-natal jaundice and cerebral palsy.

Researchers warned that exposure to air pollution could trigger potentially fatal pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

According to a study published in BMJ Open, women with asthma are particularly vulnerable to the condition – marked by high blood pressure and fluid retention. It blamed one in every 20 cases of pre-eclampsia on higher levels of ozone pollution in the air during the first three months of pregnancy, as well as an increase in premature births

The study adds to evidence of a link between air pollution and premature birth, with international research showing that higher pollution levels raised the risk of low birth weight.

Another study found that heavy traffic fumes could increase risk of having a small baby and that particles that are affecting pregnant mothers mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels.

Preventing more deaths
A Paediatric Surgeon, Nanamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Anambra Okechukwu Ekwunife told The Guardian that once a person continues inhaling the carbon monoxide from the generator fumes, it displaces the oxygen from the cells, thereby causeing an irreversible shift in the red blood cells and their ability to carry oxygen and support vital functions of the body.

He said to address this adverse health and environmental effects of electricity generator use in Nigeria, there should be increased sensitization and enlightenment on the dangers of operating generators indoors.
“People need to be aware of the health risk of getting generators close to their living areas, if people are aware through sensitization campaigns, talking to people about the dangerous effect to the body, they will realise the harm in putting generator sets close to their living rooms, and will begin to take actions to protect themselves,” he added.

Dr Bolaji said the most important measure is for the government to ensure constant supply of power, stressing that once the power supply is erratic, people would look for other means for alternative power supply, which is the constant use of generators.
He advised the government to put up an advocacy using jingles, audiovisual stimulations, to let people know about the dangers of keeping their generators inside the house.

Meanwhile, Prof. Awofeso stressed that solar, wind and nuclear electricity need to be adequately funded and properly implemented to address the situation.

He said in the medium term, liquefied gas–powered generators could be introduced to re- place diesel-powered generators, and the existing diesel generators should be refitted to use carbon-neutral liquefied gas. While in the short term, diesel engines with technologies capable of reducing diesel particle emissions by at least 80 percent should be authorized for importation and use in Nigeria.


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