Gas explosions, others: Which way out?

It’s like the case of danger lurking in neighborhoods in a manner that is suggestive of the collaboration of inhabitants. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on how residents of major cities across the country deliberately ignore environmental safety rules thereby leading to loss of lives.

Many Nigerians simply do not care about where they reside either due to ignorance or they may have resorted to fate by living wherever they can afford due to economic reasons. Investigation by Blueprint Weekend, however, indicates that while persons may be compelled by various reasons to determine their choice of residence, but in many instances, such residences are prone to dangers associated with environmental hazards. Some of these hazards are as a result of proximity to gas stations which had led to explosion many times. Others are the environmental impacts of erected communication masts built around houses and houses built close to what is known as high-tension wires, etc.

Analysts say either case is dangerous to human habitation and should be discouraged. As serious as this matter could be, examples abound of people whose residences are still prone to what is known as ‘dangers around the homes’ which had caused the loss of many lives, damage to property while those fortunate to survive live in permanent disabilities.

Investigations further show that in major Nigerian cities, it is common to see buildings erected directly under high-tension electric cables whose radiations, according to experts, are not good for humans. It is also common to find gas/fuel stations close to human settlements, the reasons for which accidental explosions have taken place in the past.

Gas explosions

In early January 2020, there was a heavy gas explosion in Sabon Tasha area of Kaduna metropolis which led to the death of seven persons, while several others sustained various degrees of injury. This particular explosion, apart from the heavy vehicular traffic it caused that day along the major highway in Sabon Tashan and lives and property lost. For instance, report had it that about six shops, including the gas retail outlet shops were burnt down as a result of the explosion which occurred around noon. The incident left many bodies shattered around the filling station including the charred body of a professor of Nuclear Physics at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Simon Mallam, who until his death was also the chairman of Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission.

There have been reports that on that day, men of the Nigeria Fire Service (NFS), police and other security personnel, alongside hundreds of sympathisers, besieged the scene to salvage what was left of the situation while road safety officials were equally busy trying to clear the road for free flow of traffic in the affected area in the midst of the whole confusion. The fire service men in particular battled relentlessly to prevent the fire from spreading to other places.

The cause of the explosion still remains unknown, but an eyewitness account claimed that a customer in a nearby barbing salon located beside the gas shop made a call while a gas cylinder was being filled thereby leading to the sudden blast. Whether this is true is left for experts to confirm, but at the end of the day, incalculable damage had been done.

Although Malam Nasir El-Rufai has banned the operations of gas stations close to human settlements, report from Kaduna indicates that the policy is not fully complied with as it is still business as usual.

The Abule Ado explosion

Nigerians, especially residents of Lagos, are yet to recover from the early Sunday morning blast around Abule Ado area in early March, when explosion rocked the entire neighbourhood leading to the death of nearly 30 people. According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) whose pipeline was the one that exploded, the incident was caused by a truck after it hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant located near NNPC’s 2B pipeline right of way.

The corporation’s group general manager, public affairs, Kennie Obateru, said the impact of the explosion caused the collapse of many nearby houses and damage to NNPC pipeline.

He said, “The NNPC has mobilised its in-house combined team consisting of health, safety and environment experts to compliment efforts of the Lagos fire service and other relevant agencies.”

This particular incident is one among many that had occurred in Lagos, especially in Ejigbo and other coastal towns in Nigeria where lives were lost.

Living under power lines

According to Environmental Health Record, potential health concerns about power lines were first raised in a 1979 study which associated increased risk of childhood leukemia with residential proximity to power lines. More recent studies have also confirmed a reported link between elevated risk of childhood leukemia and proximity to residential power lines, but failed to clarify whether the observed association is causal or coincidental.

According to the study, “Some scientists have argued the physical impossibility of any health effect due to weak ambient levels of EMFs while others maintain that the potential health risks should not be dismissed even though the evidence remains equivocal and contradictory.”

An electromagnetic specialist, Gary Zeman, said, “Electromagnetic radiation in large amounts can be dangerous to biological systems, including human bodies. This is a source of concern given the considerable fraction of the population that lives in close proximity to high-voltage, above-ground power lines, also known as high-tension wires.”

It was found that a number of people use what is known as ‘internet evidence’ to claim that living near high-tension wires can cause serious ailments, but the actual story is not yet known.

Communication masts

According to reports on IT Panorama, the establishment of more telecommunications infrastructure such as masts and base stations has raised some environmental concerns, especially in the area of Environmental Impact Assessment.

Following the evolution in telecommunication industry, it has become coming in most part of the environment to see tall masts in different locations around the country. These masts, though helpful, are believed to have negative health effects on people living near where they are erected. Part of the argument is that telecom towers interfere with aircrafts approaching landing areas. Also, there is a fear that such towers could fall on people and property in the event of heavy storm. To that extent, the erection of masts clustered in built-up areas are thus said to be hazardous to human health. It said further that most companies do not obtain the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the erection of their masts since it is erroneously assumed that the proliferation of masts can only help to improve telecommunication services.

NCC debunks hazard

As if to suggest that there is no environmental hazard to the erection of masts around human habitation, the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) had in a presentation to the House of Representatives Committee on Communications in 2015 allayed such fears, citing global examples. In a live presentation, the commission noted that much as there are loud noises about the implication of masts around residences, the health implications are minimal.

It said all over the world, radio waves aside communication waves, are all around human residences ranging from mobile phones, wifi routers, broadcast towers, satellites and radars. According to the Commission, “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

It further quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) report as saying, “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects. Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF fields such as from base stations increases the risk of cancer or any other disease.” 

It noted in particular that the NCC, in the pursuance of its regulatory functions towards ensuring compliance with acceptable environmental, public health and safety standards, conducts regular measurements of EMF on BTS across the country, saying the results obtained revealed that measured radiation levels are far below ICNIRP permissible levels for occupational staff and the general public.

Expert disagrees

Despite these assurances by NCC, a health expert, Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie, however, said, “The focus on telecommunications masts has received less attention than mobile phones whereas it is a ubiquitous presence in much of the world. Those are the structures which emit far stronger radiation. The dose of the radiation is still considered safe and low enough to be compatible with normal life. Despite all the controversies, there is a rising body of evidence within the scientific community which indicates that such radiation as emitted from cell towers can have adverse biological effects around the body. There is evidence that these emissions alter the composition of cells in our body and even alter the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) such that an increase in the incidence of various cancers, including leukemia, could be the result.”

He said further that, “It is said that during the first three to five years of living in close proximity to a cell tower, there could be sleep disorders of various types occurring. People who are thus unable to sleep properly then become deficient in melatonin, a hormone in the body that helps bring sleep about and subsequently cause various immune deficiencies. This state of the body promotes the development and manifestation of various disease states. In the period from about five to seven years, various problems that have to do with the nervous system become evident. At this time, we have headaches, confusion states and loss of memory. After a period of 10 years, the health damage could become irreversible and even irreparable and this is the usual time when cancers supervene.”

It’s factor of poor regulation  

Many residents of Abuja who spoke to Blueprint Weekend on this matter said nothing works in the country because of the lack of regulation and enforcement.

Andrew Oyofo, who resides at Jahi district, said, “Although most times, accidents do happen, but the majority of them are caused by human errors associated with poor regulation. Take for instance, the government had announced since last year that no one should sell gas cylinders close to residents again, but we still see them even enlarging their shops in many residential areas. Though helpful in many ways, but when the damage occurs, it cannot be compared to the monetary gains.”

The Nigeria Association of Health Safety and Standard could not be reached for comment as at the time of filing in this report.

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