Anxiety as Lagos residents battle health problems over emissions
The residents of Jerico Police Barracks and Oto community, in the Ijora Olopa area of Lagos State, say they risk dying from different health challenges due to toxic fumes they inhale from the plant of an asphalt producing firm in the neighbourhood, Righteous Construction Company Nigeria Limited.
They lamented that the fumes escaped into their apartments and made them to suffer from cough, chest pain, skin rashes, eye problem, among others.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the residents had been battling with the pollution since 2015 when the firm started operations in the community.
Several complaints reportedly made by the residents to the company and the state government, were said to have hit a brick wall.
It was gathered that the company usually operated from 9pm till daybreak, during which exhaust from the asphalt plant discharged freely into the neighbourhood.
During a visit to the community on Saturday, our correspondent observed a pall of smoke billowing into the atmosphere, with some residents wearing nose guards to avoid inhaling the gas.
Inspector Hussain Bako of Jerico Police Barracks said the firm had made life unbearable for residents, as many people, especially children, usually took ill.
He said, “Any time the company is producing, the pollution makes the environment unbearable. Every resident has one health issue or another related to the fumes. We have breathing difficulty, eye problem, cough and chest pain.
“Our nostrils are blocked with the particles. We have drawn the attention of the company to what we are going through. The owner would promise to do something about it without doing anything. It has remained so for the past three years now. At a point, the company boasted that the state government could not stop its operations because the owner is the son of the soil. We don’t want to take the law into our own hands. We are calling on the ministries of the environment and health to save our families from untimely death.”
A woman, Chidera Onyekachi, said her 16-month-old child, Greatman, was billed for a surgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital for the removal of dirt in his chest and showed our correspondent the result of an X-ray carried out on the boy.
She said, “We rushed him to LUTH in an ambulance on December 10, 2017 because he could not breathe. He was on oxygen for 11 days. The X-ray carried out on him shows that he has dirt in his chest and lungs. He is still on appointment. We have been advised to come for an operation, but we don’t have money. We have spent about N500,000 already.”
Another mother, Mrs Fatimoh Emmanuel, said her four-year-old daughter, Deborah, hardly breathe through the nose, adding that he took her for treatment almost on a weekly basis.
“Ever since it started, to breathe is a problem. I treat cough and pains in my lungs. My son likes reading in the night, but the dust will not allow him to do so. He always scratches his eyes and he has been having skin irritation. Three years ago while I was cooking, I didn’t know when my baby died on the bed. She must have been choked by the fumes.
“The moment we finish cleaning our apartments, there is dust again. Our water and kitchen are filled up with particles from the company,” another resident, Blessing Nwaodikwa, said.
A female resident, Mrs. Glory Isaac, showed PUNCH Metro 10 receipts of N25,000 drugs that Obisesan Naval Medical Centre in Apapa prescribed her son, Israel, within two months.
“He has been suffering from cough. Anytime I take him to the hospital, the doctor will ask me where we live. It was later I realised that the pollution from the company caused it,” she added.
A health officer in the barracks, Mr. Abah Augustine, said she relocated one of his children from the community seven months ago because she could no longer withstand the pollution.
He said, “Bronchitis, pneumonia, chest pain and cough are common among residents here. Despite being a health officer, I am not left out. My daughter has hospital cards at Federal Medical Centre and Falomo Police Hospital. She was always placed on oxygen because of breathing difficulty.
“In the future, people will suffer from heart infections. We use medicated soap, but it has not solved the problem of skin irritation. The government should come to our aid.”
Houses on Ballo Street, Fagbayi Lane and Fagbayi Street in Oto were filled with fumes when PUNCH Metro visited the areas.
Mr. Aminu Moshood of Ballo Street explained that the fumes contaminated food and prevented them from getting good ventilation, adding that the company had promised that the pollution would stop in October last year.
Another resident of the street, Mrs. Sola Semilore, said the emissions gathered on washed clothes spread on lines.
“Our children are coughing and falling sick every time. The gas is killing us. The man asked us to go anywhere we wanted. He said nothing would happen. A company like this is not supposed to be located in the residential area,” she added.
A resident and official of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mr. Olumegban Olarewaju, said he reported the incident at the state Ministry of Environment in January.
“They promised to come, but we have not seen anybody,” he added.
An octogenarian, Alhaja Samatu Lawal, was met coughing severely, and could barely speak to our correspondent.
“I have been to a hospital many times, but the cough persists. I have been prescribed several drugs. My neighbour, Mrs. Quadri, just went to a hospital now because she was coughing too,” she said.
Mrs. Blessing Anaimaka of Fagbayi Lane, said, “The fumes affect our breathing, our food and water. I always have cough and catarrh. You cannot open your windows for ventilation.”
Our correspondent also noticed that particles allegedly from the company settled on a refrigerator and confectionery in the shop of a trader, Mrs. Raliatu Araba.
The woman lamented that some community leaders who were supposed to prevail on the company had been bought over.
Mr. Babatunde Bello of Fagbayi Street, said, “I work with the Lagos Island Local Government Area. I personally went to the Lagos Mainland LGA and reported at the health section. Some officials came and sealed the company for two months. Afterwards, the company was reopened.
“This thing (pollution) is not good for our health. I pray people will not start dying. I have told my wife that anytime it is coming out, our children should be given much water so that they will dehydrate. The pollution has escalated to Apapa Road and the Ilogbo area, but the people there don’t know where it is coming from.”
A security official at the company approached by our correspondent on Saturday said nobody was on the ground to speak on the issues raised by the residents.
However, when PUNCH Metro called one of the phone numbers on the wall of the company, a woman, who identified herself only as Bukola, promised that some measures would soon be taken to stop the fumes.
She said, “We are working on the plant so that there won’t be any complaint again. This month, everything will be over.”
The state Commissioner for Health, Mr. Jide Idris, said he had directed the permanent secretary of the ministry to investigate the incident.
The Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Babatunde Durosinmi-Eti, urged the residents to make a formal complaint to the ministry.
He said, “We take such things seriously. The residents should write a formal complaint with the name of the company and bring it to me. After inspecting, we will invite the company and representatives of the residents together.
“If there is something that can be done to ameliorate it, we will tell the company to do it. If nothing can be done to ameliorate it, we will seal up the company.”Punch