Patience Joseph is a trader in Iwofe, Obia/Akpor LGA of Rivers State and she said she had been sneezing frequently since the alarm was raised about the prevalence of soot in some parts of the state. Mrs. Joseph lamented that her children were not left out as there had been a great concern about their health since the beginning of the dry season.
“We have been noticing the soot. It is black; it is in the air and we have been inhaling it. But we don’t know the remedy. I personally have been noticing the black substance within my compound. I also notice it inside my nose when I use white handkerchief to clean my nose. We are afraid because of the risk of inhaling such substance. This is because we do not want to die. The red car in our house is changing to black as a result of the soot.
“I have been sneezing frequently and my children have been sneezing frequently too. Government should come and help us; they can give us immunisation to ensure that this soot does not kill us.”
Mrs. Joseph stated that though she had not gone to the hospital, she and her children had, based on advice, begun to take grape mixed with ginger to clear their throats.
“We want government to identify the source and put an end to this so that those that have wells should be able to drink from them without fear. We have not gone to the hospital yet, but we were told to take a mixture of grape and ginger to clear our throat and remove any soot particle that has settled there,” she said.
Also frightened is a civil servant, who simply identified himself as Godwin, who resides in Obio/Akpor. He said he had catarrh which he feared might be as a result of the black soot.
“Many of us have been complaining and and asking why this is happening. Again, though we have been having catarrh in the past, we don’t know what is causing this one in this dry season. If we spread white clothes outside, you will always see black stains on them.
“We are afraid about the possible health risk. Even when you go to the hospital, nothing would be done. Many of us felt the same way too and left it. It will be fine if there would be any remedy for it,” Godwin appealed.
Narrating his experience, Ebere Ukachukwu, a businessman said fear struck him the first time he noticed the black substance settling on one of his neighbours’ cars. According to him, he began sneezing frequently and decided to visit a hospital. Ukachukwu pointed out that the medical attention he received at the hospital stopped his recurring sneezing. He urged the state government to identify the source of the soot and stop the spread.
He told Saturday PUNCH that, “I am a resident of Rumuolumini. We have been seeing thick black smoke. I have been coughing and sneezing, but I have been able to control it to a certain extent. I went to the hospital and the doctor took care of it. We started experiencing the thick smoke in this dry season.
“Before I went to the hospital, whenever I coughed, sometimes, I coughed out something that was black in colour. There was a time I coughed out something that was greenish in colour. Government should employ experts to trace the cause of the soot and look for a remedy so that it will not turn out to be a problem that will affect very large number of people.”
Mrs. Nike Dada, another resident of Port Harcourt appealed to government to come to the rescue of innocent city dwellers by making the environment safe.
She said, “I used to observe that my baby’s clothes had black stains. Initially, I thought it was from my neighbour. I also observe that when I cough now, the colour of what comes out from my throat is dark. Government should help us for our safety and the safety of the environment. I am afraid and I know that everybody is afraid of death.”
A teacher in one of the secondary schools in the state, who identified herself as Mrs. Ngozi Oha, told our correspondent that the soot usually settled on vehicles parked in the front of her house. She said she was always frightened each time she used white handkerchief to clean her nose and discovered that some of the particles from the soot had settled in her nose. Oha explained that she had been drinking a mixture of grape and ginger to ensure her throat is clean and clear.
“If this thing they call soot could be found in someone’s nose, it then means a large quantity of it must have been inhaled into our lungs. That is what is making me to be afraid. I don’t know if it can cause any harm to me,” Oha said.
Apart from Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor, the state capital, some of the areas affected by the soot are Khana, Okrika, Ikwerre, Gokana, Eleme, Oyigbo and some other areas in the state, even as the sources of the hazardous substance have been traced to activities of road construction companies, illegal oil bunkerers and destruction of illegal refineries by security agents.
A Port Harcourt resident, Mr. Chris Oyi, said the soot had polluted his swimming pool and other surroundings of his building. He pointed out that the composition of the substance is dangerous to human health. The soot is very dangerous. It can travel deep into the lung to do some serious damage. Breathing the tiny particles can cause coronary heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, and many other respiratory illnesses.
“I feel this scenario is not different from the experiences of the community around the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company as well as other parts of the Niger Delta region where gases are still being flared,” he said.
Oyi, however, called on the federal and state governments to provide an immediate solution before it becomes an epidemic.
The immediate past chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association in the state, Dr. Furo Green, put the record straight and declared that more than six million people in the state were at risk of contracting cancer if nothing was done to stem the spread of the hydrocarbon soot in the state. Green, who is a health expert and a consultant surgeon at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital in Port Harcourt, expressed worry over the prevalence of the black substance that has spread across some parts of the state.
He expressed the need for government at all levels to identify sources of the pollution that had kept residents of the state uncomfortable. Speaking with newsmen in Port Harcourt, Green stated that government must take a close look at the activities of companies involved in hydrocarbon processing, even as he pointed out that children were more at risk of developing respiratory problems after inhaling the hydrocarbon particles.
Also, ENT specialist, Dr. Julius Nnam, said the effect of constantly inhaling soot does not occur immediately. He said it might take up 10 to 15 years for the consequences of inhaling soot to begin to manifest.
A doctor at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, simply identified as Dr. Alex, said although nobody had been specifically hospitalised for inhaling soot, some persons had come down with respiratory disease. According to him, “When they cough, they cough out something with black colour. It shows that the soot is affecting them.”
Recently, the task force set up by the Rivers State Government shut down three companies for their alleged involvement in the spread of hazardous substance. The task force identified the erring firms as Chinese Government Company, H&H Engineering Company and AUC Asphalt Company, all located in Aluu, Ikwerre Local Government Area of the state.
The State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, who is a member of the task force, explained that the affected companies would be prosecuted in line with the law.