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N/Delta: N1.8tr required to cleanup 2,500 contaminated sites

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With growing animosity over the socioeconomic impact of the environmental degradation across the Niger Delta region, environmental experts under the aegis of the Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences rising from their maiden conference in Abuja have further reinforced fears of impending dangers to human health, environment, marine life and the economy due to gross environmental pollution in the region, reports Charles Okonji

For the discerning few, the logistics required to address the lingering environmental crisis bedeviling the Niger Delta region is quite staggering to say the least.

That much was said at the conference organised by the Nigerian Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS) in Abuja recently.

Tagged: ‘Explores Health, Environmental and Economic Impacts of Toxicants’ the event drew attention of Nigerians to the dangers of environmental pollution, with most toxicologists at the conference warning residents affected by the menace to live with caution in order to ward off strange deaths and sicknesses caused by dangerous toxins deposited in their environment by oil companies and manufacturing industries in the course of exploration and manufacturing activities.

Cost implication of cleanup

According to the cross-section of experts, many communities are prone to unsafe toxins. In the Niger Delta for instance the experts disclosed that over 2, 500 sites of pollution exist that needs about $50billion (N1.8250 trillion) on the part of federal government and companies concerned to clean up.

The well-attended event, held recently at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) International Training Institute, Abuja, featured presentations and discussions on research findings in several areas. Its central theme was “Health, Environmental and Economic Impacts of Man-Made and Naturally Released Toxicants.”

Seven sub-themes were also x-rayed at the conference, including Industrial and Agro-chemical Toxicity, Oil and Gas, Solid Mineral Toxicity, Telecommunications Toxicity, Risk Assessment, Regulatory, and Tobacco Harm Reduction.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, who was represented by the Director, Chemical Technology in the ministry, Mr. Akinyemi Oyefeso, said the management of  wastes generated by industries have become a source of worry to humans and living organisms due to the level of toxicity in the effluent wastes.

He said the occasion marked the society’s commitment to consolidating the efforts of the government in making science, technology and innovation the fulcrum for driving the nation’s economic development.

He noted that the theme of the conference was apt given the positive and negative effects of chemicals, which are used in one form or the other including antibiotics, detergents, drugs, pesticides, which are toxicants, affect the lives of Nigerians on daily basis.

“As the use of technology in pharmaceuticals, paints, tannery, chemicals is on the upsurge, so also the management of the wastes generated by these industries has become a source of concern to humans and living organisms due to the level of toxicity in the effluent wastes,” Onu stressed.

According to him, the study of toxicology emerged as a major science tool that has found application in diverse areas of activities such as food and spices, oil & gas pollution, tobacco challenge among others.

“We seek the collaboration of professional bodies like yours to partner with in achieving this goal. In this regard, your society has been identified to possess personnel with various skills and competences in fields of specialisation and hence should collaborate with some of the agencies of the ministry such as Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) in the area of herbal and traditional medicine,” the minister said.

Interministerial support to address the issue

Other quasi-governmental agencies including the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) is expected to ensure that food and spices are grown and processed to meet international standards needed for export just as the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria, is required to work in the areas of chemicals and environmental issues.

There is also National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), in the area of genetically modified organism, amongst others.

Executive order to the rescue

Onu pointed out that the Federal Government has gazetted the Presidential Executive Order No. 5, which seeks to get all professional bodies and other Nigerian professionals to be involved in the planning and execution of projects, promoting Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology.

“I would advise that your Society key into the Presidential Executive Order No. 5 and avail the ministry of your views on it. Furthermore, the ministry acknowledges the great efforts of our researchers and advises that the results of their researches should be patented as a step towards the commercialization of such researches by would-be interested investors and industrialists,” he stressed.

The President of NSTS, Prof. Uche Alex Osunkwo, who is a pharmacology and therapeutics lecturer at the University of Abuja, stated that most nations develop laissez-faire attitude to environmental pollution such that when epidemics or other climate-related diseases arising from not checking pollution come up, before it is checked or nipped in the bud, a lot of havoc was already done.

He said on most occasions, the inability to control pollution arise from government’s role in allowing some manufacturing companies to establish within residential areas and not in industrial areas.

“The danger of not checking pollution and what comes from that could cause a plethora of problems. There are lots of toxic wastes that should be disposed systematically and scientifically, which could otherwise cause irreversible environmental damage to the society. “This damage could be in terms toxic contents of the wastes or the after use made of them by minors who may not understand their implications. Environmental pollution has existed for centuries, but only started to be significant following the industrial revolution in the 19th century,” Osunkwo stressed.

Osunkwo said industries have been polluting the environment especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, notably due to the increasing use of fossil fuels, saying that the NSTS has a responsibility to contribute to national development by encouraging and engendering research in relevant areas to aid important national decisions as well as encourage informed personal actions.

On the rationale for the three-day conference, Prof Osunkwo explained that validating or invalidating notions was a major impact that science should be making in all areas of life, which only research can help man achieve.

The Secretary General of NSTS and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Dr. Anoka Njan, expressed that the conference was not only significant, but also came at a time the nation was in serious need of scientific solutions to daily exposure to industrial and cosmetic chemical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, heavy metals and natural toxicants.

The Secretary General of the NSTS stated that the conference will help to promote the identification of easy and practicable solutions that can enhance national development and quality of human co-existence.

In a presentation titled ‘Non Clinical and Clinical Assessment of Tobacco Heating System (THS)’, the Manager, Translational Research Strategy at Philip Morris International (PMI), Dr Ashraf Elamin, said the in-depth research done by the company has the potential for harm reduction.

A medical doctor at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Dr. Patrick Ovie Fueta, dedicated his work to understanding the intersect between adverse environmental exposures resultant of environmental pollution and the negative effects on population health.

On other chemicals that pollute the environment and have negative impacts on health, Fueta said there are several classes of chemicals that people are exposed to in their environment, and disease manifestation from exposure to chemicals are usually similar within chemical groups but arbitration may exist.

“Some examples of these chemicals include environmental phenols such as bisphenol-A (BPA) used as a plasticizer in the plastic industry, and sodium-iodide symporter inhibitors such as nitrates used in the fertilizer industry.

“Unfortunately, most of these chemicals are termed persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because they persist in the environment and within the human body for long periods of time. This is particularly problematic because the effect on health can still be elicited even after truncating exposure.

“Some of these POPs are also endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and cause unique disease conditions that pertain to perturbations bodily hormone levels. One of the most affected endocrine organs from exposure to POPs is the thyroid gland, and this is where I have based my research on,” he said.

A guest speaker and Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja, Prof. Micheal Adikwu, said the Niger Delta communities were very susceptible to the precarious toxins.

He said: “We believe that with responsibility, urgency and dispatch on the part of the National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency (NOSDRA) and ministry of environment proper remediation, restoration and cleanup of these affected areas will be carried out, as NOSDRA is the only agency of the Federal Government charged with the responsibility of cleanup of any oil spill in Nigeria, undertaking surveillance, reporting, alerting and other responses and ensuring the compliance of all stakeholders in the oil sector to all existing environmental legislations and the coordination/implementation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCI) as approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

“It is very painful that the ecological disaster occasioned by the effects of oil exploration has wiped out the biodiversity of the listed communities along the Oloduwa River, and will also wipe out the entire ecosystem of the region as these communities are bounded in the North by the Ovia South-West local government area of Edo State, the Atlantic Ocean by the south, the Ondo State.”

According to him, environmental pollution is a contributor to the low life expectancy of about 54.6 years estimated for all parts of Nigeria.

A research conducted by the NSTS stated that about $50 billion will be needed to cleanup of oil producing areas.

It stated that the cleanup of over 2,500 contaminated sites in Nigeria’s oil producing areas would cost the federal government and other stakeholders over $50 billion.

A breakdown showed that it would cost $6 billion to cleanup Ogoniland alone while other parts of the Niger Delta would gulp about $44 billion. The exercise, it was gathered would take more than 50 years to execute through massive deployment of suitable technologies, experts and volunteers.

Investigations showed that not much effort has been made to effect the cleanup of Ogoniland, and indeed other parts of the region despite the commitment expressed by the President Mohammadu Buhari-led administration. The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, disclosed that several months after the government launched the clean-up of Ogoniland, actual work has not yet started in the area. Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, said almost six years after the UNEP report, “not a drop of oil” has been cleaned in Ogoniland.

Another expert view

According to a soil restoration expert, Mr. Olabode Akindeji-Oladeji, the mechanical separation with remediation is the best approach for the Ogoniland oil spill cleanup.

Akindeji-Oladeji who is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, OilOff Africa Limited stressed that the method will provide for a non-detect (ND) clean-up, in which the soil will contain non detection of hydrocarbon, explain that there are present in Nigeria, small indirect fired remediation plants that can undertake up to 6 to 15tons/hr.

Specifically, he said, “The plants consume a high amount of energy to fire as the tonnes per hydrocarbon (TPH) of the soils are quite, high in most cases greater than 30TPH as noted in the UNEP report. This means that it will take a long time and high energy provisions to achieve the cleanup of Ogoniland using such plants. The appropriate plant for the project is a mechanical separation plant which would provide a dual advantage–reduce the hydrocarbon content of the soil by reducing the quantity of hydrocarbon in the soils to less than 6% and utilise a direct fired plant which will consume less energy and can undertake up to 100tons/hour. Such plant is not presently available in Nigeria, and we are in the process to bring a system in.”

He further noted that the cleanup of the degraded Ogoniland alone, which process was launched by the federal government last year is capable of creating more than 2,000 jobs within the first three months.

“There is need to encourage backward integration of people and resources that will provide food, shelters, diesel, water and a lot of different activities. So almost immediately, the economy of that particular area kicks off. That is different from the 120 to 150 people that are working within the plants to take care of the process in itself. The local indigenes would be trained and engaged in welding, as technicians are trained in geophysical testing, and equipment operators are trained in the working of the equipment; people generally in the area who have trucks to move material are able to do that; people that have other equipment like excavators, pay – loaders and other earthmoving equipment are able to lease their equipment and as such the whole location is engaged. We are able to employ, within a particular area, between 400 and 500 people at a particular point in time. Definitely, over that course of time, we are able to see over 2,000 people that are employed, doing different things.

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