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Residents leave Port Harcourt over sooth emission

By Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
18 February 2017   |   1:02 am
The effects of the soot being witnessed in parts of Rivers State has continued to attract concerns from medical experts, scholars, environmental activists and even residents, who are alarmed that its deadly....

• Govt Intensifies Action, Urges Residents To Stay

The effects of the soot being witnessed in parts of Rivers State has continued to attract concerns from medical experts, scholars, environmental activists and even residents, who are alarmed that its deadly effects might soon begin to manifest in the people.

This is as residents have begun to relocate from the oil-rich city due to the health implications of the emission which has lingered since it was noticed in October last year, when they started noticing soot in their homes, offices, business areas, churches, on vehicles, goods, clothes and even food items.

Experts warned that the effects of the sooth emission would begin to manifest in three to five years in the form of respiratory tract diseases.

Some families seen moving out their belongings said the environment was no longer safe for living; hence their decision to leave the city and move into a city with safer air quality, at least for now.

One of them, Mr. Francis Woke, who lives in Rumuodumanya in Obio/Akpor Council, said a lot of people have been hospitalised due to respiratory and lung diseases, stressing that he was scared of the ugly development and no longer comfortable with the situation.

Another resident, Mrs. Juliana Nnadi, who lives at Rumosi, also in Obio/Akpor Council, said she was travelling to her village in Imo State until it is confirmed that the pollution has cleared.

Some other wealthy residents are using the period to travel outside the country for a break.Last week, Port Harcourt and its environs were extremely polluted by the sooth, causing the cloud to remain dark till about 9am in the before it cleared.

White vehicles were turning to black. In fact, wearing white clothes to events became very rare.As a result, some panicking parents stopped their children from playing outside, with people spending more time inside their homes than outside.

It was also gathered that some residents, out of fear, have started wearing facial masks to avoid inhaling the substance. However, the state government has swung into action and set up a task force/committee to investigate the source of the soot and find lasting solutions to it, just as residents took to the street to draw attention to the emission, calling on Governor Nyesom Wike to urgently action.

The three-man committee, comprising Commissioners for Environment, Prof Roseline Konya; Special Duties, Mr. Emeka Onowu; and Information, Dr. Austin Tam-George, has since intensified effort to restore a safe environment.Two days after their inauguration, the committee shut down three companies, whose activities were allegedly polluting the air, including a Chinese firm.

However, while the efforts of the committee were being applauded, some residents and experts decried the state government’s delay in rising to the occasion, despite early alarm raised by the people.

Former chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Mr. Chika Onuegbu, regretted that government’s moves to fight the soot was delayed, stressing that the relocation by some residents would affect the economy of the state.

Onuegbu said: “We all know that the gas emission has a serious health implication, the committee set up is doing quite well, but the action came a bit late, because, hitherto, a lot of people were already scared for their lives and health and had begun relocating their families to cities where they feel the air quality is safe.

“Businesses in the state will suffer. The truth must be told; it is going to affect the economy of Rivers State, because people are going out of the state, so the money that should have been spent or invested in Rivers will now be spent in those states and that is not good for the state’s economy.”

He reiterated that the committee is doing well and called on the public to assist it by providing evidences wherever they see what constitutes soot emission.

But Tam-George said the committee swung into action immediately and confronted the problem headlong, adding that there has been a reduction of the soot in the last few days.

He said: “The soot will not go overnight; it is a gradual thing. We are working with community leaders, security agencies, traditional rulers and oil companies to stamp out the soot.

“There is a clear determination by the state government to bring an end of the soot. People should not leave the state; they should not relocate, because the environment is safe now and the state is peaceful.

“The soot would soon be a thing of the past.” Undoubtedly, the intensity of the soot has reduced.For residents around Ogoni axis, Eleme and Oyibo, where a petro chemical plant and two refineries are located, especially Oyibo with the highest number of flow stations and steady flaring of gas, the situation is not new, as they have been experiencing heavy drops of soot for a very long time.

An environmental activist and former chairman of Khana Local Government, Celestine Akpobari, told The Guardian that the adverse effect of the black carbon has started manifesting around the Ogoni axis.He said: “In Ogoni today, the highest and frequent celebration is burial ceremony. You can see someone in the morning, but by the same evening, they tell you the person is dead.  

“In Ogoni, we are seeing miscarriages and women giving birth to disabled children. “The quantity of soot we breathe in daily is not known and these things are very poisonous to human lives. Yet governments are doing nothing about it.”

Research indicates high level of concentration of compounds in the soot, such as sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon, combined with moisture to form toxic acid rain, which worsens water quality, damages soil and crops and changes nutrient balances in various ecosystems, just as the people also suffer respiratory diseases.

But Commissioner for Environment, Roseline Konya, said her ministry was analysing the content of the samples collected and urged the people not to panic, as government was on top of the situation.

Meanwhile, a professor of Applied Meteorology and Environmental Management at the Institute of Geosciences and Technology, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, Akuro Gobo, has stressed the need for government and various stakeholders to swing into action to address the challenge.

Gobo warned that its effects would soon begin to manifest, as the soot was not plummeting.In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “Daily, the black soot is getting worse, because you notice that the weather these days will not be clear in Rivers State till almost 9am and each day, we are inhaling this particles into our health systems.

“I am sure in future, we will be having certain illnesses that may lead to death.“The situation is not getting better between November when it became very obvious till now, being the peak of the dry season.

“It seems lighter these days because we are having occasional rainfall, which clears the soot a bit. That is why we are not experiencing it the way we did towards the end of last year and some people think it has stopped.

“It is still there; it is just that we are having occasional rainfall. If heavy rain comes, it will clear it more, so there is need to step up in finding lasting solution to it. The Ministry of Environment should be commended for showing concern.”

He, however, said the emission was as a result of bunkering activities in Niger Delta region, as well as the military actions in setting illegal refineries ablaze, thereby sending more of the black soot into the atmosphere.Gobo said to tackle the problem, government should start from the root by collaborating with the people involved in illegal refining, work with them and utilise their skills in a better way.

He warned that setting illegal refineries on fire would never solve the problem or stop the menace, adding: “We are in a dangerous situation now. The problem has been caused, all we need to do is to address it from the root, so that the problem will not occur again, and if nothing is done urgently, it will be worse due to its accumulation into the atmosphere.

“The fire brigade approach we are using will worsen the problem. I recommend that the state government involve the stakeholders, environmental experts, medical experts, scholars and the oil industries to chat the way out of this.”

Gobo said stakeholders need to be enlightened to realise that the destruction of the ecosystem and the environment are dangerous to health.Further finding across the state shows that there is serious panic among residents, as some parents no longer allow their children to play outside, as most residents now spend longer hours inside their houses than outside.

It was gathered that some people have began wearing facial masks to avoid inhaling the substance.Some residents urged the state government to consults with medical experts to see if oral vaccines could be given to the people to reduce the effects of the substance in the human system.

Also speaking, a Consultant Paediatrician at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Port Harcourt, Dr. Appolous Josiah, while also attributing the soot to the activities of the Military Joint Task Force and militants, urged the state government to urgently provide pipe-borne water to the rural residents and others who do not have access to good water and curb the action of JTF, who usually set illegal petroleum trucks ablaze.

He said: “In the rural areas, where there are no source of good drinking water, this pollution dissolves into water and if the person drinks it, it can cause cancer and lungs diseases

“Government needs to legalise the small illegal refineries, so that they can refine the crude.“The JTF should be stopped in setting petrol trucks ablaze, because burning of these trucks causes the pollution.”

On his part, an environmental rights activist, Nimo Bassey, described the pollution as a big threat to people’s lives.Bassey advised residents to wash their hands, foods and vegetables regularly before cooking, adding that it was not safe to drink rainwater at this period.

Similarly, another environmentalist, Chris Oyi, said the recent discovery of soot in Port Harcourt and its environs should be addressed urgently.

Oyi stated that emissions, such as soot, has caused several disease outbreaks in the state and the country and in some extreme cases, resulted to the untimely deaths of innocent citizens.

He listed some of the soot-induced diseases to include asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments and called for government’s swift action.

In the meantime, the Rivers State House of Assembly has passed a resolution to find lasting solution to the environmental degradation in the state, especially a way to address the black carbon emission.

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