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Air quality in Lagos


Lagos. Image source superhotmobile

Lagos. Image source superhotmobile

LAGOS being the commercial and industrial nerve-centre of Nigeria, with a population in excess of 20 million, a vehicular traffic unmatched on the African continent, it is common knowledge that the air over the city is polluted. What is unclear is the extent of air pollution.

The result is that Lagosians are daily exposed to deadly fumes emanating from sundry sources to the detriment of public health, a dangerous phenomenon that requires urgent response from all governments and the people.

The phenomenon is not new. What is novel is the seeming mind-boggling indifference of the society to this looming danger. On October 12, 2005, for instance, Lagosians woke up to a choking smog hanging over the city.

The fog lasted more than six hours, causing panic as to the cause of such an overhanging thick blanket. That experience gave insight into the magnitude of pollution in the city but unfortunately, to date, no official or tangible scientific explanation has been offered on the incident. Environmentalists, however, said it was “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”

Again, in November 2013, some 25 students of Ogba Junior Secondary School in Ikeja, Lagos, suffered concussion after inhaling what was presumed to be poisonous fumes from a nearby industrial plant. Although, the school was promptly shut after the incident, it was re-opened shortly without the authorities establishing the exact nature of the pollution. Even though no fatality was recorded, questions were raised as to what would have happened if the fumes were lethal and many innocent students had died from the environmental recklessness of some persons.

The foregoing represents the tip of the iceberg and these came to the limelight, probably, because of their magnitude. There is reason to believe that several of such incidents, including those resulting in fatalities, daily affect people without being recorded or reported. The authorities should, therefore, take proactive measures to address air pollution in Lagos with regular air quality monitoring and public enlightenment.

With about 20 million inhabitants living within the vicinity of industrial and generating plants, Lagos generates a mix of deadly particulate matter, asbestos, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The heavy vehicular traffic is a major source of carbon monoxide and un-burnt hydrocarbons. The metropolis is filled with decrepit vehicles that exude dangerous fumes. These substances contribute to the death of thousands of people annually without being appropriately identified as such, thus leaving pollution as a way of life.

Lagos’ pollution problem, it must be pointed out, is also compounded by the presence of millions of generators in every nook and cranny of the state as a result of lack of public power supply. The noise and dangerous fumes from generators are immeasurable and constitute a major source of danger to public health.

There are more than 50 kinds of highly toxic gases that could prove fatal when inhaled in large quantities. These include bromine (Br2), carbon monoxide (CO), chlorine (Cl2) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Human contact with any of these toxic gases could manifest in suffocation, fainting, irritation of the eyes and the skin, leading to blisters. Extreme exposure could lead to death.

Industrial plants should, therefore, be sited away from human habitation. And in doing that, environmental factors such as wind direction, and effluent discharge should be taken into consideration. Effluents released in one part of the city have the capacity of being transported to another part by air currents or water flow. Some may seep into the groundwater. Severe air pollution could result in acid rain that is injurious to living things including plants and animals.

Given the high propensity for pollution in Lagos, therefore, the authorities should step up air quality monitoring, with the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) taking the lead in this regard. There should be systematic monitoring to ascertain the space and time frame of air quality in a densely populated metropolis like Lagos whose deleterious fumes could build up or get accidentally released into the air.

It is not known how proactive the Lagos Air Quality Monitoring Study (LAQMS), initiated in 2007 has been but the agencies charged with the responsibility should be diligent in performing their duties by pinpointing air pollution sources for abatement measures to be initiated. In some countries, the “polluter pays principle” is applied and it is high time Nigeria adopted same. Above all, the laws to protect the environment should be comprehensive and strictly enforced for life to be well lived.

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