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Lafarge’s effluence: Furore over impact on farmlands, residents – Part 2

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
04 April 2021   |   3:00 am
High expectations, enthusiasm greeted the commencement of operations by the West Africa Portland Cement Company (WAPCO), now Lafarge Africa Plc in Ewekoro

High expectations, enthusiasm greeted the commencement of operations by the West Africa Portland Cement Company (WAPCO), now Lafarge Africa Plc in Ewekoro and other neighbouring communities of Ogun State in 1959.

The host communities celebrated the prospects of job opportunities and opening up the area for development. But the joyous feeling and expectant bright ‘future’ were short-lived.

Over the years, the company had gradually grown to become a giant in the building industry globally. In 2011, it commissioned a new plant named Ewekoro II (Lakatabu), which eventually increased its output, but the more the expansion, the severe the pains of the communities, who have gotten a sweet-bitter tales to share.
For over 60 years now, the communities have been forced to cope with the deafening noise from the blast at the quarry, the effect of the accompanying vibration, as well as the routine plume of dust emitted into space and the health hazards of the effluence.
A recent visit to some of the communities, especially those with proximity to the factory, showed roofs discoloured by limestone dust emissions and stained plantations, just as residents contend with a cloud of dust and smoke constantly over their mid – sky.
Though there are no established cases of prevalent diseases and developing health challenges in the host communities and beyond, The Guardian confirmed from the Iyaloja of Ewekoro town, Chief (Mrs) Musili Gbadebo that the residents have resorted to the regular licking of Palm Oil and milk to mitigate the effects of inhaling dust daily.
Indeed, the host communities are living under the siege of cement effluence, which portends a great danger to their existence. Aside the alleged health hazards and the environmental nuisance caused by the company, the sources of livelihood of the agrarian communities seem to have been battered beyond their imagination.
The Baale of Lapeleke, one of the 12 host communities, Chief Gabriel Taiwo Olusesan, who went down the memory lane, said before the company commenced operation in the area, cocoa and kola nut were the mainstays of his forefathers, lamenting that those crops have gone for good. “The problem has been on since the company was still WAPCO and it continued over the years, a lot of things have happened and we have made several complaints but the fact is that Lafarge is doing its best.
“The dust is affecting our farmers, debarring our people from farming. Whenever they plant, they cannot get 100 per cent of their harvests. It’s obvious the effect of the dust is everywhere, but we have been having a good relationship with Lafarge.”
A farmer, Mr. Salmon Ibrahim, attributed the stunted growth of crops in the area to the effect of the dust. He said the rivers have also been polluted to the extent that the polluted water also affects the crops from blossoming. “Communities like Lapeleke and Oke-Oko seem to be the hard-hit with this development. The stream water that ought to serve our farms is already polluted and useless for farming.
“The dust often settles thickly on our roofs, the air pollution is obvious around the communities. If we sweep the floor, within an hour the effluence would have settled as if the portion had not been swept for days. Even when you bath, you feel and see the traces of cement on your body because the effluence will found its way into the water we use.”

The Guardian learnt from experts that the operation is far below the standard professional practice.

Edwin Igwisi, a Professor of Environmental Management, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, said in a sane clime, cement factories always ensure they treat their wastes and gaseous effluence, before letting out the harmless gaseous effluence into the environment. “There is equipment for treating the wastes before letting them out to the environment.”

According to him, there are also monitoring agencies set up by the government to supervise activities of the companies through adequate equipment for monitoring air quality, soil quality and water quality from time to time to ensure that the environment is safe, for the health of the people and the environment.

He confirmed that the effluence contains a wide range of toxic materials called heavy metals, which are actually carcinogenic and can cause cancer to the residents.
“The affluence generally has some negative influence on the environment and the environment produces the breath which we breathe. The vegetation, the land, the soil and the water are affected. The problem with the effluence is that they contain a wide range of toxic materials, which we call heavy metals, which are actually carcinogenic, which can cause cancer.
“Now, it’s not as if the cement factories on their own are a nuisance to the society if they are properly managed, because the regulation is that these effluences are supposed to be properly treated within the premises of the factory before being let out to the public space before becoming a nuisance to the people. But in most cases, some of these wastes are not treated within the factory before they are released into the public.

“Once the effluence comes out of the premises, and goes into the air, you’ll see vegetation covered with these dust and of course crops cannot do well because the process of photosynthesis is hampered and tree crops, roots crops and others along that pathway are harmed and damaged. And by implication, whoever eats the fruits, roots, leaves or any part of the vegetation the health of such person will be hampered because he or she has taken in heavy metals and by the time those things accumulate in the body, they give rise to all these cancerous growths in the body and all that,” he said.
He noted that the dust chokes up the leaves, which hamper photosynthesis, “so without it, the crops cannot do well, they’ll be stunted in growth. Whether leaves, trees or anything, once they are blanketed by the dust, their growth will be stunted. And of course, if the soil is also polluted, the ultimate source of nutrient for the plant is from the soil.
“Again, some of these things are eventually washed by rain from the leaves, from the atmosphere they get into the soil, they are taken up again by vegetation, there’ll be roots in the soil that take these things and of course eventually accumulates it in all the various parts of the plants, including the leaves, the fruits, the back and of course whoever consumes these parts of the crop is also vulnerable to some of these diseases.

“And of course, during the raining season too, the rain also washes all the dust from the atmosphere, from the leaves, soil into the ground water and the ground water of course gets into our streams, so again whoever takes his or her bath in the stream, whoever collects water to drink, without proper purification is also highly vulnerable and this becomes a problem for communities that depend on such streams.
“So, it’s a wide range of problems.  We have government agencies that supposed to regulate some of these things; we don’t know whether they go there to regulate these things and to ensure that what is let out of the factory are actually harmless to the environment.  These are things they are supposed to do. Everything is about management and the lapses on the part of the supervisory agencies of government to ensure that these things are done properly so that the communities will not be complaining or raise issues.”
An Agricultural Extension Specialist/Rural Sociologists at ABU, Dr. Yusuf Abdulahhi, said the regular pollution of the air causes health hazards to the animals and also human beings in the vicinity where the factory is sited, especially the closest to the cement processing facility.

“It’s a system, it comprises of the air, the soil, the human being habitation it and the animals, what the scientists call flora and fauna. So anything that will disturb any of these elements or components of the environment, anything that will disturb the balance within an ecosystem is likely to be a serious hazard to the system and to the normal functioning.
“As you are aware, once you are in a cement factory environment, even the air is polluted because the cement production process releases a lot of gases and a lot of dusts, which most times are invisible to the eyes. There is need for such industries to go along with some environmental management measures to minimize the effect on the living things and even on the non-living part of the environment.

“So, just like you heard from the farmers if you are to test the soil, you might find out there is a gradual deposition of both particles that go up into the air, they are gradually depositing on the soil and they increase certain physical and even chemical composition into the soil and then the pollution of the air also can bring about health hazards to the animals and also human being in that vicinity, especially the closest to the cement processing facility.”

Abdulahhi stressed that since dust development projects have their environmental impact, one of the environmental impacts of such a factory is air, soil and water pollution, noting that in order to minimize the impact of the environmental pollution, certain things have to be in place, the water discharge from such a factory has to be controlled, so that it could be channelled to a safe place and disposed safely.

“The environment has to be planted with trees (vegetation) so that they can intercept the dust coming up from such industrial activities and then the land has to be vegetated so that the vegetation will protect the land and at the same time absorb a lot of the air from emission. All these are some safety measures, which normally go along with the industry. Even a leather industry in Kano is causing a lot of concern through water pollution because some of these leather processing industries in Kano don’t control their discharge, therefore, the discharge is finding its way into the stream and the communities which are relying on these streams for their drinking water are suffering.
“This is one of the mandates of the Federal Ministry of Environment. There is also another national agency that sees this kind of things. In our country, sometimes laws don’t work well. Like you said, the farmers are right, if they observe changes in the chemical and physical properties of their soil, it is very directly related to that industrial activity, likewise if the water quality is analysed, there might be some changes. These pollutants in form of gas and particles finally land on the soil and the water, even noise pollution can be minimised through vegetation.

“Nobody is supposed to establish industry anywhere in this country without first of all, obtaining the licence, without an environmental impact assessment. The questions are: are the assessments being done before government gives permits to the industry? Are the plans being implemented? It’s only the government and the industry that can answer these. Deeper investigation should reveal whether there is the prevalence of diseases in the communities hosting the factory.”

According to Barrister Osasu Iguisi of Iguisi Chambers, Zaria, Kaduna State, the development is a criminal offence on the part of the company.

“For every industry, there are laws protecting them and before the establishment of any industry in any particular place, they must get a permit, they must be registered in appropriate agencies, especially cement and fertiliser companies, which generate wastes, those are the legal aspect, but if they are operating and the waste they are releasing is being pumped into the waterways or farmlands of people, that is a criminal offence because it is negligence on their part if they allow their dangerous wastes or effluence to encroach other people’s property.

“Two, in some companies, they generate a lot of pollution that affects the environment and the communities, such company should be liable for not properly channelling the waste, this is called Criminal Negligence in law. It is a civil matter too; the communities can also seek relief for criminal negligence and ask for damages that the dust have affected them negatively.  

“All these problems can be solved if the company has good public relations with the communities, as they are assisting the communities through the CSR. It can be settled between them without any legal issue. Everybody is entitled to his or her peace, if the activity of the company affects the people, they can seek redress.
“Legally, the aggrieved communities can seek redress in court, every company has a law guiding them to control the effluence generated, there should be a mechanism to control this. They can sue the company for damages if farms are damaged, which is a civil law, they can claim damages, they can also sue for criminal negligence for not doing the best, it is both civil and criminal.”

In its reaction via a statement, the company said it has committed a total of 5.3mCHF to change its current Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP) to baghouse at the plant. “This entails making significant adjustments including the shutting down of its kilns for, at least, six months to make this improvement.

The CEO of Lafarge Africa Plc, Khaled El-Dokani, remarked: “At Lafarge Africa Plc, sustainability is at the core of our strategy and it transcends all that we do.  Sustainability is about meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. 

“One of our goals is to pioneer the transformation of the local building materials and construction sector in Nigeria to address important environmental issues, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and our Sustainability ambition pillars of Climate and Energy, Circular Economy, Environment and Communities. Care for the environment and for our host communities is built into all aspects of our operations everywhere in the world.”

The CEO explained that this investment underscores the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability. “At Lafarge Africa, our sustainability pillars – Climate and Energy, Circular Economy, Environment and Community is the lever for which Lafarge is driving innovative solutions and impact. Our social impact is focused on the areas of the most needs: Education, Empowerment, Health and Safety and Shelter/Infrastructure. LAP partners with our host communities to develop and implement social interventions in these areas. 

“Lafarge is also increasingly using biomass, including oil palm and rice husks, as alternative fuels to power its plants. Currently, a good number of cement plants in Nigeria are powered by coal, gas or low pour fuel oil. However, alternative fuels are considered cleaner, more sustainable, and also help surrounding communities dispose of waste more efficiently.

“Considering this, alternative fuels currently account for up to 40 per cent of fuel used to power Lafarge Africa’s Ewekoro plant and the company plans to have all plants operating on at least 35 per cent alternative fuels by 2023. At the global level, LafargeHolcim is committed to building a world that is greener, smarter and works for all,” he said.

The company added that more than 16,000 people have been impacted so far by its social investment programmes at Ewekoro. “A number of initiatives directed towards health and safety, education, rural electrification, infrastructure and environmental sustainability across several communities have been executed.

“Some of the initiatives include a 14-bed healthcare centre and supply of medical equipment at Olujobi community; a 1.5 kilometer reinforced concrete road and drainage in Alagutan; a four-kilometer long pipe borne water supply installed at Elebute; a transformer base for electrification at Oke-Oko Sekoni and several bursary awards granted to students from the communities who are currently studying in tertiary institutions in Nigeria among others.”