Tuesday, March 26, 2013

LIVING ON DIET OF CEMENT: SAD TALE FROM OGUN COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA


I came across this publication in a Nigerian Newpapers, The National Mirror of 24th March, 2013 and i was again very sad over the way Nigerian Government have trivialised critical issues of utmost concern to the health of Nigerians across different environment.
You will recall in one of my publications i lamented on the need for Nigerian Government to quickly sign off the Nigerian Occupational Health and Safety Bill which hopes to establish a healthy operating process framework to guaranty the safety of both employees and the host environment. It has become a great irresponsibility on the part of Government at both Federal and State levels to totally ignore or disregard the unwholesome practices that happen in Nigerian workplaces. I personally feel we can still salvage the situation before the influx of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that Nigerian Government has been clamouring for and fast attracting.
I am not sure we can contiunue like this, these companies cannot operate with this same risk laden standard in their parent country and why allow it happen in Nigeria? The victims of the economic activities of this company at Ewekoro are observant and proactive enough to make series of complains which no one seems to be looking into right now. What i am not sure of is if the Government of Ogun State has got these reports, i will however be sending His Excellency, The Executive Governor of Ogun State a letter copying the Honourable Commissioner of Health with an attached publication as reported by The National Mirror Newspapers.
What Ogun State stands to suffer from this report is a high risk of Cancer related ailments and possible cancer related deaths from this environment where this cement company is sited. I am also worried over outbreak or persistent Dermatological concerns, my heart weeps for the future of children born to parents that reside in this environment, there stand a chance of having very critical health challenges in their youth.
Kindly take out time to read below the story as presented by Biyi Adegoroye and Tai Anyanwu both of The National Mirror Newspapers.
There are fears that the inhabitants of host communities of Cement Companies in Ewekoro and Sagamu in Ogun State now live in danger due to emissions from the companies’ factories. The fears are not misplaced. Experts confirm the risk of a cancer outbreak in the neighborhoods if nothing is done to arrest the ugly trend. But, is the government of Ogun State aware of this risk? What has the company been doing to mitigate the effect of these hazardous emissions? This and more are the focus of this investigative report by Biyi Adegoroye and Tai Anyanwu
Host communities, workers and visitors to cement manufacturing companies in Ogun State and elsewhere in the country have something in common – they are contending with gales of dust and other airborne production related particles, which are considered dangerous to health. Residents of communities like Elegunshe, Sabo, Ode Ilemo, all in Sagamu, like their counterparts at Ewekoro, which covers towns and villages like Alaguntan, Papalanto, Lageleke and Akinbo are in danger. The streets adjacent to the factories are also disturbed by what they described as a daily diet of haze of dust emitted from the plants. They expressed worries that air-borne emissions from the company’s plants pose great dangers to their health and properties. According to community leaders, youth groups and landlords, who spoke to Sunday Mirror, heavy metal, gas and dust emanating from the production plants at Sagamu and Ewekoro often have corrosive effects on the roofs of their building and vehicles parked therein. “Our roofs, beds and vehicles are covered daily by dusts and other particles, while we wash our vehicles daily because of the pollution.We also fear the emissions are dangerous to our health,” said Yekini Adeyemi, a resident of Sabo at Sagamu.
People that have visited Lafarge Wapco Pls, a cement manufacturing company, which has been in operation in the country for over 50 years, have their stories. For the residents close to Dangote Cement Company that is in the same neigbourhood at Ewekoro and staff at the cement plant at Sagamu, it is the same sad tale. The chemical contents of cement like calcium carbonate, limestone, calcite, cement kiln dust, iron, silicon and fly ash combine to emit air-borne particles, which are dangerous to health. A report by the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN) titled “Earthworm as Bio-indicator of Heavy Metal Pollution around Lafarge, Wapco Cement Factory in Ewekoro, Nigeria”, seem to lend credence to this fact.
It stated that “heavy metal pollution of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems has long been recognised as a serious environmental concern. The use of earthworm as bio-index of soil heavy metal pollution was examined to reach such conclusions. Using the Lagos/Abeokuta express road as transect, four replicates each of the soil and earthworm samples were collected from five points for analysis. “Using spectro-photometry method, heavy metal concentrations (Pb, Cu, Mn, Zn, Cd, Co) were measured in all samples of soil and earthworm. Histological studies were conducted on earthworm sections.” The result revealed dark spots and patches on the tissues of the earthworm samples collected from the cement factory area compared with clear earthworm tissues at the control site. Bioaccumulation of heavy metal in soil and earthworm was noticeable around West Africa Portland Cement factory at Ewekoro and could serve as a possible bio-index of heavy metal pollution.” The report further stated that the pollution is dangerous to humans, and so, it cannot be any less perilous to properties as well. As could be seen when Sunday Mirror visited, vehicles parked within the premises or homes nearby suffer one form of damage or another. A former distributor of Lafarge at Sagamu, who did not want his name in print said the problem has been there for over 40 years of the company’s existence. “You see, when the factory was constructed, it occupied several acres of isolated land on the Sagamu-Ikorodu road. There were no residential houses at the time. But these days, expansion of the town has culminated in the construction of residential houses around the factory,” the former distributor said.
Heavy metal pollution observed in cement production factories –Report
He did not stop there. But said, “sometimes, the lorries will wait for days within the vicinity of the company, taking turns to load. During this period, we had to watch our vehicle daily, inhaling the particles. After sometime, many had to remove their truck because of the corrosive effect of the pollutants
Motorists as well as commercial motorcyclists, who ply the area, are not spared of the heavy dusty particles from the company. They have to use nose masks to contain the toxic particles on that route, while the company has a custom-built car wash within its company premises for staff and customers. Residents of Sagamu community in particular, who maintained a structured relationship with Lafarge, said though, the company has maintained a good relationship with them, they have not discountenance the need for them to conform to international best practices.“They should at all times ensure adequate regard for the environment they operate as well as the residents in the vicinity,” they stated.
The Secretary of Sagamu Community Development Council (SCDC), Oba Sikiru Bello, Elegushe the V1, said the community holds regular meeting with the company to address all these issues. “We have notified them of the pollution and the impact such pollutions are having on our health and property. On a daily basis, we wash our vehicles because of these emissions from their plant,” the Oba said, adding, “the insidious nature of the dust pollution emanating from the exhaust pipe projected into the sky at the company’s factory is frightening. If these particles could be so damaging to the paint of the vehicles, one can imagine the impact they would have on our heart and other organs.”
The traditional ruler, however, has some kind words for the company. “They have made their impact felt in the areas of youth empowerment, construction of ICT training centre and digging of boreholes; we want them to carry out regular assessment of the impact of their production on our community and address the problem. The dust here is too much. We are aware of the fact that it has further been compounded by the on-going construction of the Sagamu- Ikorodu road by the Federal Government. You see, if you come here during rainy season, the road is almost impassable. All these factors must be addressed,” the Elegushe said.
Bernard Uzo, a dealer on electronics in Ewekoro town, also said, “when we sleep and wake up, we start to cough because every air we are breathing in is contaminated by dust. No matter how much one tries to shut the door against cement dust, one would still wake up each morning to see the bed covered with dust. We have spring water here but we cannot drink it because it has dust deposits. Chest congestion, rasping and constant cough are common sickness we experience here. I personally don’t find it easy to breathe in and out.
”One Pastor Paul of Winners Chapel, Ewekoro also explained that the air in the community is just full of dust. “The moment you decide to stay here that means you have accepted that you will have to live with the dust of the environment and will endeavour to take remedies to neutralise its effects in the body system. Those who know the secret ensure that they drink enough milk or ensure regular intake of red oil to neutralise the chemical, at all the times. The pollution has serious effect on everyone who lives or does business in this community. I have lived in Ewekoro for 10 years and I know how I have been affected by the dust. My family had to move out of this place because of the dust; I could not relocate with the rest of my family because I had to do my business here,” he told Sunday Mirror.
Apparently aware of this danger, workers and visitors to the plant at Sagamu adhere strictly to an observable health and safety policy, by utilizing personal safety equipment. These range from goggles, nose masks to helmets, which are considered compulsory before entry into the plant. Experts have said that cement dust inhalation is dangerous to the respiratory system of people exposed to it, and could cause cancer of the lungs. According to Dr. Ezekiel Ogunlewe, Consultant Cardio Thoracic Surgeon and Senior Lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), “it has adverse effects on the lungs of those who work or reside where cement is produced. It affects the lungs and also the covering of the lungs called the pleura and this can lead to cancer of the lungs or pleura, which is called Mesothelioma.” Ogunlewe told Sunday Mirror that a lot of people, who work in construction companies and live within cement production firms, do visit the hospitals with related complaints. “Most times, people do not know that they are damaging their lungs by inhaling cement dust until it is too late,” he added.
For Adeboye Yekini Babatunde, who also teaches Chemical Engineering at UNILAG, that factory is, indeed, a source of pollutants to the environment. “It is not just the vegetation that will be affected, people and animals living in that environment are subjected to danger, because the natural environment has been altered. Residents of the area will begin to inhale dangerous chemical compounds, and other addictives associated with cement including calcium carbonate, limestone, calcite, cement kiln dust, iron, silicon and fly ash, which are dangerous to health,” he explained.According to the Cardio thoracic expert, the best way not to endanger one’s health is to avoid inhalation of cement dust on constant basis. Ogunlewe agrees with him even as he urged government to stop cement factories from citing industries where people live. “And if you work or live in such location, please always use nose mask to cover,” the don advised.
Health and Safety Issues, our concern - Cement Company
But, the company is not unaware of the danger posed by the factories and it has thus made safety concern a major company policy for workers and the community. Lafarge’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Mrs. Temitope Oguntokun, insisted that the company is a responsible corporate entity, which carries out periodic environmental impact assessment and ensured environment friendliness. She, nonetheless, promised to look into the complaints of the communities, adding that relationship with the community has been cordial in terms of safety and environmental concerns. She restated the fact that her organisation has a full scale policy and implementation on health and safety. “And that cuts across all cadres of staff. In terms of visible ones you can see, we have our policy on Partners Protective Equipments (PPE), which are mandatory for not only our staff, but for everybody that visits our factory. If you had attempted to enter that site, they will not allow you to enter without a PPE; you will have to undergo a safety induction; and the PPE is essentially protective equipment like goggle, nose mask, ear muff, the helmet and the boot. All of these things are compulsory for the people within the factory.”
To the residents, she said, “in Ewekoro, we have a lot of health and safety initiatives that we have put in place at all our locations. It comes as our community Social Responsibility activities (CSR). It cuts across four key areas. We have health and safety as our number one activity that we do. We have education; we have youth empowerment and we have shelter and contribution to basic and infrastructural development within the community. On health and safety, we do a lot of enlightenment campaign within the community. We get the (NGOs) that go into the community to enlighten our people.”
Oguntokun, however, deny claims that her companies pollutes its environment of operation.“We do not produce dangerous gas, which is why you need to understand the process of cement production. As regards the issue of pollution, it is just like any other manufacturing concern. There are times you have something like technical issues. When we have a technical issue, once in a while, it can lead into substitutions emission; basically dust emission. But, as an organisation that is very proactive when it comes to health and safety, may be you would have seen that with Lafarge, health is our number one priority. And with health and safety comes with the issue of environment as well, in term of protecting the environment. So, when we have such technical issues, it will just be dust pollution but we are very proactive and the communities will attest to that,”she said.
You will notice also while reading through this report that the company was sited in this environment when there were no form of residential settlement about 50 years ago. This makes me wonder if the functions or roles of the Ministry of Town and Urban Planning has changed over the years. When we place a right ladder on a wrong wall, it will definitely lead us to a wrong destination, some of the flaws we see here are the outcomes of the inefficiency of the Ministry saddled with the reposibility of town planning . There would have been no need in the first instance allocating such land to people for residential purposes, now we have  people resident in the midst of a company with high level of hazardous operations processes and what do we do at this point? It all summarises the reactive attitude of government and lack of foresight of the caliber of people that drive the affairs of government at all levels.
This does not in anyway make excuses for the company in question, there is an urgent need to put an abatement plant in place to mitigate the overall hazardous emmissions generated by your presence in that environment. In responsible economies where the health of citizens and safety of environment are issues of concern to the government which will be evident by the presence of  enabling legislations, people would be going to law courts to make claims and seek for compensations because the law has provided a basis to argue and demand for their right.
I will conclude by reviewing the statement of the Mrs. Oguntokun, the Head of Corporate Affairs of Lafarge. It is very obvious that there may have been safety processes in place to support the company's operations and that is not what the residents are complaining about, the issue at stake has to do with the pollution of the environment, air quality standard and associated health risks the operations poses to the residents. Quite a number of companies are quick to refer to CSR but how are these initiatives measured in terms of impact and benefits? How timely are these CSR progams reviewed in the best interest of the community or supposed target beneficiaries.
Having Occupational Health and Safety activities duly regulated in Nigeria is the only answer, we need to put pressure on Mr. President to sign off this Nigerian Occupational Health and Safety Bill which has been passed by The Nigerian Senate since September, 2012. It is of utmost importance to Nigeria and Nigerians in this phase of our checkered economic evolution to have an enforceable National Legislation on Occupational Health and Safety. We also need the States and their Legislators to rise up and intitiate enabling legislations to safeguard the health of workers and safety of environment in areas within their geographical control. WE CAN DO IT. "IF YOU WILL, I WILL".
Kindly read through and leave a comment.

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  3. Firstly, I am a geologist and an OSH professional. Geologically speaking, cement production has adverse effect on the environment. Let's start from the mining stage. Geologists and miners use explosives to disintegrate outcrops of large mass, and in some cases they use bulldozers where there are good exposures or fractures and other planes of weakness. When the explosives buried inside the drilled outcrops go off, they shatter the Limestone thereby disintegrating the rocks into fractions- boulders, cobbles, rubbles, other size-particles as tinny as the 'Fines'-which have the propensity to travel far and wide within the 'radius of influence'. These fines are dust-like, they tend to mix and contaminate the natural air within that radius of influence thereby subjecting residents in long term health problems. After the mining phase, the boulders and other fragments are further sent for primary and secondary crushing into known sizes, followed by the introduction of other additives then other processes. All these processes are hazardous.

    Occupational Safety and Health wise, provision of PPEs are just temporary solutions in addressing 'surface' manifestation of a root problem, in the sense that, the PPE will only be worn within the company's facility. Do we expect people living within the radius of influence to wear PPEs even in their living rooms, bedrooms, restrooms, outside their houses etc? NO. Aside the health implications, do people even consider the long-term Mechanical effects these activities have on the structures within the radius of influence? Maybe NO... And I doubt if these factors were put into consideration when building.

    My opinion, LAFARGE/WAPCO is not to be solely or even blamed at all, from Mrs. Temitope Oguntokun's statement, there was no sign of residential settlement when the company was sited years back, I will partly put the blames on the new residents and majority of it on the Ministry of Town and Urban Planning for poor and myopic planning. The little I know about mining contracts is, its always a long-term agreement, so its either the Government relocates and compensates the residents in the affected communities while full exploitation and production of these resources continue, because stopping their operations will render the huge tonnage of Limestone reserve in both Ewokoro and Araromi Formations in the eastern Dahomey basin useless.... Or the residents should vacate the areas because our government is not responsive, then seek compensation
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