Enveloped by plumes emitted by a steel scrap recycling company, located at Fashina Area of Ile-Ife, Osun State, researchers have confirmed that sooner than later, dwellers of this community may begin to develop emission-induced terminal diseases, except something drastic is done. MOJEED ALABI, who was in this community for one week, reports
Prior to his appointment as a guard at the palace of the Oba of Fashina community in Ile-Ife in 2012, Mr. Sunday Amadi, from Akpoa village, Ebonyi State, his wife, Grace and their three kids, had struggled for survival.
The new offer by the king, Oba Mathew Oladoyin Ogunwusi, the Atilade I of Ogunwusi, was, therefore, a relief to the family as they were offered reasonable pay and accommodation within the beautiful palace. However, their joy was short-lived.
As soon as the family relocated to the new place of work, their trouble started. A new iron and scrap recycling and smelting factory – Ife Iron and Steel Nigeria Limited – located directly opposite the palace, about 5 kilometres from Obafemi Awolowo University campus main gate, along Ife-Ibadan Expressway, a high traffic density road with an estimated daily traffic of more than 5,364, is the cause of the Amadis’ latest headache.
The emission from the company, which had commenced operation less than two years before Amadi was employed at the palace, was becoming intolerable to the environment, including many other neighbouring communities of Koka, Modomo, Ogunwusi, Jaleoyemi, up to the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Oduduwa University campuses in Ile-Ife.
Apart from the thick smoke covering the air during the company’s hours of production, which the communities’ dwellers observed usually blurred their vision, inhalation of a range of pollutants emitted by this company also became a subject of concern.
But for the Amadis, the frailty of their health soon became obvious.
“Almost every week, we develop one ailment or the other,” Mrs. Amadi told New Telegraph in Pidgin English.
She said in 2012, and due to the smoke, Kabiyesi, alongside his family, relocated from the palace, leaving behind the Amadis. Kabiyesi was said to have moved to his house on Ilesha Road, some kilometres away from the community, and that he visited the palace only when it was mandatory.
However, in 2016, the situation had grown worse for the Amadis, when the 52-year-old head of the family began to cough ceaselessly and developed breathing difficulty.
“It was in July this year, when my husband’s cough grew worse. He could not breathe well, and sometimes he vomited blood. At the OAU Teaching Hospital we were asked to go for some tests but we had no money, because since 2014 when Kabiyesi had died, he has not received salary. The doctors also told us to stop taking the borehole water in the palace and that we should relocate from the place,” Grace Amadi narrated.
Since the king died on November 11, 2014, the Amadis had survived on the proceeds from their subsistence farming activities within the neighbourhood. Thus in August 2016, when the condition did not improve and there was no money to pay at the hospital, Mrs. Amadi took his husband and the three kids back to Akpoa Village in Ebonyi.
She said: “I have taken them to his family. I only came back to Ile-Ife in November with the hope that I would be able to get part of his salary arrears from the palace officials but no one is ready to help.”
Amadi’s uncle, Mr. James Alu, a retired school principal, took his brother to the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, where he was diagnosed of kidney disease.
In a telephone interview with New Telegraph, Amadi said he was told by the doctors that he was on Stage 2 Nephropathy (kidney disease), and that the disease may have been contracted from the vegetable he ate over a long time.
“Our major soup in Ile-Ife was vegetable which we planted in the palace, but how do I know it was not healthy for us? For more than a week now, I and my wife have been sleeping at the waiting veranda in this hospital because we could not raise N25,000 to commence treatment. I shall be returning to Akpoa tomorrow because this suffering is too much,” Amadi narrated his ordeal.
On Friday, December 23, Amadi was eventually referred to a Catholic hospital – Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Afikpo, in Ebonyi State, apparently due to the proximity to his village.
One of the consultants at the hospital, Dr. Augustin Ezeugwu, who confirmed Amadi’s health status told New Telegraph, said he had been scheduled to go through another scan on Monday, December 26, to further ascertain the level of the damage.
According to Ezeugwu, Amadi’s history taken at the hospital also confirmed that the pollution in the area where he was staying before must have been responsible for the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Fashina Community Development Area, Rev. Jacob Fadare, is also insisting that the death of the late Oba might not be unconnected with the consequences of the company’s activities.
He told New Telegraph that the late monarch had complained of breathing difficulty and that whenever he sneezed he saw black particles in his mucus. He corroborated Mrs. Amadi’s claim that the development had informed the late Ogunwusi’s relocation from the palace.
“I learnt doctors told Kabiyesi he was already endangered by the activities of the company. He moved out of the community in 2012 and by 2014 he was dead,” Fadare said.
Fadare, who recently marked 20th anniversary of his church’s existence in the community, said he is also facing health challenge as a result of the emission. “My health has been affected too. In fact, it is worse now that the company produces at night. I usually cough out of my sleep. Look at my church – Christ the Owner Ministry, is already deserted. And the school I established too, His Grace Nursery and Primary School, has suffered decreased enrolment just because of the pollution. But how do I abandon a place I have lived for 20 years? Many young boys and girls in the community have developed asthma. Our condition is pitiable,” he told New Telegraph.
In a similar development, some of the teachers in a public school in the community – Holy Saviour Primary School, which is located adjacent the company on the dual carriageway, have also cried out for help, saying apart from the school facing extinction following steep drop in enrolment, the health of the remaining five teachers and its pupils is in danger.
“The situation is so bad that we use face masks to teach in classrooms. And now that the company operates at night, we wait till around 9a.m. before we resume to classes so that the emission would have totally cleared. Two of us are already diagnosed of asthma, which we never had before now,” one of the teachers, who craved anonymity being a civil servant, told New Telegraph.
Also, a parent of one of the pupils in the school, who sells bean cake within the neighbourhood, complains that his son’s vision seems blurred, with his eyes now reddish, adding that the boy also sheds tears very often. This, she concluded, is not unconnected with the emission from the company.
“Everyone is moving out of this environment. Our businesses are collapsing. How many people are left to buy what we sell? Yet our health is not good,” a parent, who identified herself simply as Mrs. Elujoba, narrated. She also refused to give the details of her son.
In what could be described as a confirmation of Elujoba’s fears about his son’s case, a Paediatrician and former Senior Special Adviser on Health to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, Dr. Rafiu Isamotu, said exposure to fumes could lead to constant irritation of the eyes.
He said: “Apart from irritation of eyes, because incinerators discharge heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic in various forms, volatilised in the stack gas, solidified in fly ash, and solidified in bottom ash or slag, there could be pulmonary diseases such as chronic cough, allergic rhinitis, and asthma. Their high preponderance could develop to lung cancer. It could also lead to circulatory problems leading to blood dyscrasia, and headache could be occasioned from exposure to Carbon Monoxide.”
He also listed other diseases to include cancer and gastrointestinal disorders, saying the school children in close proximity of the company should have regular blood check to determine presence of heavy metals over and above the WHO recommended levels.
Apart from the late Kabiyesi who relocated from the Fashina community in 2012, New Telegraph’s investigations revealed that many residents in these communities, particularly those without properties in the area, have fled since the company commenced operation in 2011.
This is even as the community has complained that its only market, which was also inaugurated in 2011, has been abandoned due to the emission.
According to Fadare, the market, which had shown great potential for growing trade and commerce, was immediately abandoned by traders for fear of their lives.
“The people immediately relocated to the Ilesa-Ibadan dual carriageway. Every Friday, a whole part of a lane on the road is blocked for market activities. This nuisance the market now constitutes wouldn’t have happened if the one in this community had not been deserted,” Fadare lamented.
New Telegraph’s visit to Akinola Market on a Friday revealed a gridlock on a major expressway as a bad portion on the road was taken over by traders’ activities forcing travellers to divert from the road.
Similarly, on a Friday, and at about 9a.m., when New Telegraph visited the public Holy Saviour Primary School, which was already enveloped by thick bushes, few of the pupils available were roaming the compound while others were playing football awaiting their teachers.
Investigations revealed that apart from existing teachers seeking transfer from the school, new ones posted to the school never resumed.
The teachers lamented the abandonment they suffer, saying only five teachers are left in a school that was established as far back as 1976 with more than 15 teachers few years ago.
“From the enrolment population of more than 200 pupils, we now have 35. And this started just about five years ago. For the sake of some of us who live and teach here, government should either relocate the company or find a permanent solution to the crisis.
“At home, we can no longer use rain water because the sediments contain black metals. Even, doctors say we are not safe with our borehole water,” another teacher narrated.
A senior administrative officer at the OAU Teaching Hospital, Oluwakemi Fasooto, said she had resided at Fashina area till 2012, but the pollution had driven her more than eight kilometres away.
“I didn’t need medical advice to vacate the area. The thick dusts on my windowpanes confirmed what I was inhaling. There are many students’ hostels in the area and estates occupied by university staff too. It is dangerous to live there,” she said.
However, Ms. Adaura Daniel (not real name) who owns a local gin shop near the company, was full of praise for the workers of the company for patronising her.
But the fear of the rumoured untimely death of some of the company’s workers had reportedly scared many of the youth in the neighbourhood from taking up jobs with the company.
According to Rev. Fadare, the youth have been warned of the consequences of taking up jobs in the company and many of them prefer to roam the streets rather than being employed by the company.
This was also confirmed by the company’s Chief Administrative and Personnel Manager, Mr. Oluwaninsola Adeleke, who told New Telegraph that it was difficult for the company to impose sanctions on its employees for not conforming with safety standards because there could be no replacement for anyone fired.
Dr. John Oyekunle is of the Department of Chemistry at the Obafemi Awolowo University, who supervised a research project titled; “Heavy Metal Formation Status of the Fashina Metal Recycling Factory.” He said the research, which was carried out in 2012, barely one year after the company commenced operation, was targeted at finding out the pollution concentration of metals in the environment around the location of the factory.
He said metals in an environment can undergo series of chemical changes, in terms of what was called speciation, which he noted could lead to water percolation, polluting ground and surface water.
According to him, the research output, which was published in an international journal – Journal of Advances in Chemistry, identified metals like aluminium, cadmium, manganese and zinc in the area.
He said: “Our study showed that aluminium had the lowest concentration and manganese had the highest concentration in all the sites analysed. We analysed towards both Ibadan and Ife areas. But we came up with a conclusion, that if the rate of that deposition continues, there would be future havoc health-wise.”
And in continuation of the research efforts towards monitoring the metal deposition in the area, the researchers went back to site in 2015, to consider what has transpired in the area within the last three years.
“And of course, we saw that the concentration of these metals had increased tremendously. We have not published our report yet, so I won’t go into the details. But there is scientific evidence that the amount of various metals being deposited are increasing. There are several aspects that should be monitored by scientists. We are dealing with metals and the chemical effects on the environment. There is the need to also look at air, and I know some of our colleagues have done some things in that regard.
“We know that in Nigeria, we don’t monitor anything, but that environment is going to face some challenges and when you see the plumes coming up, they can travel kilometres depending on the season of the year, the wind, speed and temperature. And that is why it is not advisable to have residential buildings around such places. You could see that a lot of people have houses in that environment which is as a result of ignorance. However, study of this nature is not yet conclusive.
“Before you can come up to say this is the exact thing happening there, we would have monitored the place for between five and 10 years in terms of gases, metals and general pollution; then we can say this is what is at stake and, therefore, people are advised to relocate,” the don said.
According to Oyekunle, large amount of aluminium in the drinking water in the area could lead to a disease called Asemia, which he noted affects the brain, and that it relates to Parkinson disease, making people to forget things easily.
“Also, if Cadmium is too high in the environment, it can get transmitted to the human body through the foods, and if people eat a lot of that regularly, so many organs of the body will be affected – kidney, liver and more especially, the bone, so that the bone becomes fragile and breaks easily.
“Copper is another essential metal and Zinc, but if they are too high, and particularly too much of Zinc, they can cause prostate cancer. A lot of diseases are associated to a myriad of this etiology health-wise. Manganese is also an essential element for plants and also for human bodies, but when it is too much, it causes irritation and leads to vomiting. The most dangerous is lead. And all these are found very much in this area, and especially during the second test,” Oyekunle added.
In a similar development, Dr. Pascal Tchokossa, an Associate Professor of Medical and Health Physics at OAU, who supervised a Masters’ thesis entitled; ‘Assessment of Radioactivity in Soil, Food and Water’ in Fashina Community, Ile-Ife,” also reiterated the menace the company constitutes to the environment, adding that the entire OAU community is also endangered.
He explained: “The research was done on the assessment of radioactivity in environmental matrices such as water, food and soil. That was an MSc project defended in November 2016. It was a one and a half year-long research project, and specifically, between 2014 and 2016. Our findings was that all those matrices we observed contained all those nuclides.”
The thesis, which was written by Samuel Oluyide, under the supervision of Pascal, noted that the exposure rates to radioactivity and their health implications in the area were found to be higher than the world average value.
The research read in part: “The radionuclides detected in the gamma spectrometry analysis belonged to the naturally-occurring series-decay 238U (Uranium) and 232Th (Thorium) as well as the non-series 40K, 238U and 232Th concentrations in some food and water samples were found to be higher than the world average value in the study area. The control area showed a trend of low activity concentration in all the samples analysed when compared to the study area. This can be attributed to the industrial activities in the study area.
“In addition, the transfer factor from soil to plant was found to be higher in 238U and 232Th compared to 40K. This was due to the deposition of airborne radioactive particles of 238U and 232Th series on the surface plants in the study area.”
The findings also revealed that the excess lifetime cancer risk values in food and water samples in the study area were found to be higher than the world average value, noting that it exposes the populace in the study area to serious health risk. It, therefore, recommended that; further research work on the natural radionuclides inside the factory should be done to know the occupational exposure rate of workers; installation of portable type radiation detectors for steel companies having smelting furnaces before being issued certificates of operation, and that regular environmental radioactivity monitoring at 10-kilometre radius around the factory should be carried out.
However, Prof. Joshua Ojo, also of the Physics Department in OAU, believes there is more to be done to ascertain the level of the hazard the pollution may have constituted in the area.
The Professor of Environmental and Health Physics, who specialises in testing blood for metals, however, decried the funding challenge and the lack of facilities to do such in the country.
According to him, during his recent research work on led poisoning in Zamfara, he had tried to take blood samples from some of the workers of the company, but he was barred by the management of the company.
He said: “We won’t need less than N500,000 to conduct a reasonable metal test on blood of the people there but where is the funding? All we can get from the reports of other researches there are just inferences which cannot authoritatively be confirmed that the pollution is the cause of the people’s death and diseases in the area. As scientists, we must ascertain that.
“I am very sure a doctor at the teaching hospital, Dr. Alatise, once conducted a research confirming increase in the cases of breast cancer among the women of Ile-Ife. Also, another colleague has confirmed that because of the weather and atmospheric pattern in the area, it is worse when the company operates in the evening; it puts people more at risk. I am very much interested in conducting this research, but we need money.”