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‘Crude oil causes heart, skull deformities’

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Study predicts cancer epidemic in N’Delta by 2025
With the rising cases of oil spills, pipeline destruction in the oil-rich Niger Delta and overdependence on petroleum products, Nigerians are in for a massive health catastrophe.

A study has established that crude oil, even in low quantity, can harm not just human health but that of fish. An international research team found that even brief exposure of the eggs of Atlantic haddock to low concentrations of dispersed crude oil can cause severe and usually deadly deformities in developing fish.

The findings indicate that oil spills at high latitudes could have serious impacts on some of the world’s most important fisheries, including those for haddock, cod and pollock.The research published yesterday in Scientific Reports by a team of scientists showed that crude oil compounds disrupt the development of key organs in embryonic fish.

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The study by scientists from Norway and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Centre in Seattle was funded by the Research Council of Norway, the VISTA Foundation, and Norway’s Institute of Marine Research to assess the risks of oil spills in remote northern Norway, in the heart of Atlantic haddock’s range.

The international collaboration will provide information to inform environmental risk assessment of proposed oil drilling in northern oceans.Earlier studies had shown that more Nigerians are at a greater risk of developing different types of cancer due to exposure to crude oil pollutants.

The leader of the team of researchers and a pharmaceutical chemist at the University of Lagos, Dr. Chimezie Anyakora, had predicted that if nothing was done urgently to address the issue, there would be increased cases of cancer in Nigeria by 2025, especially in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

According to the studies, more than 25 per cent of Nigerians are at an increased risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic chemicals from crude oil pollution, Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). They also suggested that PAHs can be genotoxic; that is, the damage caused can be inherited.

Previous studies had also indicated that PAHs caused a decrease in sperm count and fertility in crude oil-polluted environment of the Niger Delta. However, besides the people of the Niger Delta, the studies indicate that other Nigerians, even students, are exposed to high level of crude oil pollution and are at the risk of developing cancer before now. One of the two studies is the first Nigerian research linking PAHs to cancer.

“In the next 10 years, I see a big problem here. With rising cases of oil spills in the Niger Delta region and our overdependence on petroleum products, we are going to see so many cases of cancer,” Anyakora told The Guardian.

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Anyakora is now chief of party of United States Pharmacopeia (USP) in Nigeria. USP is an affiliate of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). PAHs are a widespread class of environmental chemical pollutants. They are a component of crude and refined petroleum and coal. Over 100 PAHs have been identified and these usually are complex mixtures. PAHs may also be generated as products of incomplete combustion processes such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Other sources such as industrial production, transportation and waste incineration generate significant levels of PAHs.

The effects of PAHs on human health have been of major concern. They are known to be acutely lethal in low concentrations and chronically lethal in sub-lethal concentration. Toxic effects observed due to PAHs include decreased body weight, enlarged liver with cell oedema and congestion of liver parenchyma and inflammation of kidney cells. PAHs have also been found to cause reproductive toxicity. They can affect female fertility by destroying oocytes. Developmental toxicity such as embryo-lethality reduced foetal weight and malformations have been reported in response to some PAHs.

Until now, several foreign studies had shown the carcinogenicity (cancer-causing potential) of PAHs. They had been implicated in inducing lung, skin, stomach and breast cancer.


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