By Ugonma Cokey
On Wednesday the 14th of March, fire erupted at the Olusosun dumpsite engulfing the vicinity and environs with thick smoke.
The smoke from the fire has still not stopped in the 100-acre dumpsite, said to be the largest in Africa and one of the largest in the world and receives up to 10,000 tons of waste every day. Waste from about 500 container ships are said to be delivered to the site.
Olusosun landfill which was once located on the outskirts of the populated area, is today surrounded by residential and commercial areas.
To date, no one has been able to categorically pinpoint the cause of the fire which almost overwhelmed the men of the Lagos State fire Service and sent residents in to panic mode, leading to massive traffic gridlock in some parts of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
The fire destroyed shops, cars and property. Though there was no life lost, some people were injured in the process of scampering for safety.
Though the heat from the waste and the environment could have triggered the fire as landfill fires are usually a result of decomposition of organic materials, which leads to combustion, some residents have pointed at the Police as setting the fire, the Police have in turn accused the miscreants popularly called “area boys”
Waste at the dumpsite ranged from electronic, industrial, domestic, medical, household, paper, agricultural and toxic wastes. These materials when burnt reduces air quality, contains methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide, toxin, furan, mercury etc.
Impact of the fire
The resulting smoke in the air means there are infectious, hazardous, radioactive wastes, presence of heavy metals, mercury, lead, gas, sulphur etc.
Medical experts say, the smoke brings down oxygen and reduces air quality which will lead to respiratory distress and problems like respiratory tract infection, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen which can cause permanent damage or death.
Hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans are carcenogenic; and linked to other diseases. The pollutants are said to be harmful to unborn foetus, infants and children. Furan and high level of dioxins are linked to cancer, liver problem, and skin rashes and can cause severe reproductive and developmental damage.
On the other hand, electronic waste can lead to lead poisoning which can affect the brain, meaning that the type of material burnt and Length of exposure to toxic smoke and gases determine level of toxicity.
While the whole world including Nigeria works to reduce green house gas, Carbon monoxide and Methane released and being released into the air from the dumpsite still emits Green House Gas which is impacting the ozone layer.
The inferno destroyed cars and property, led to closure of businesses and affected the livelihoods and homes of scavengers. The second inferno resulted in closure of garages affecting traders, bus driver, commercial bike riders etc.
So for close to two months residents and commuters have directly and indirectly been affected by the Olusosun dumpsite fire this especially since ordinary paper mask, handkerchief or bandana do not protect from fire smoke particles or gases.
The Olusosun dumpsite is interestingly not the only dumpsite in Lagos, there are several other dumpsites. On the way to the Lagos State University from the Isheri axis are about 4 dumpsites and disasters waiting to happen.
Interestingly also, two of these dumpsites are opposite and beside a cooking Gas refilling Plant, so one begins to ask if trapped gas from waste escaped to cause combustion and the smoke is still on, what would be the result of combustion in a dumpsite around an LPG station?
If government is not ready to move the dumpsites in that axis, what is it doing to
create awareness on the inherent dangers in this arrangement?
The only solution the Lagos State government has proffered so far is ordering the closure of the dumpsite and directing that the landfill sites at Ewu Elepe in Ikorodu and that of Epe, to be used instead.
Government also advised residents to relocate until the fire and smoke at the dumpsite disappear, that does not translate to a resolution of the problems and issues. What happens to the education of the children of residents?
What about the workers in different firms, the artisans, commercial bike riders, bus drivers, petty traders and mechanical engineers especially the ones who live in the neighbourhood, and the schools that had to close earlier and send students home because of the thick smoke ,how do they relocate and for how long?
What has government done to sensitize people on the implication of the thick smoke to health aside from the one said in the passing during the inferno, shouldn’t government conduct tests on the residents to ascertain whether or not they have developed some health conditions and identify the prevalent condition with a view to helping them?
Researches like the Special report on closed dumpsites: Kenya’s Dandora Dumpsite last year showed that children suffered from skin diseases, abdominal pains, eye infections and dental problems. What assurances do we have that children of residents are not affected in that way?
What about the scavengers whose means of livelihood have been affected, who in spite of closure of the site still visit to eke a living not minding the smoke and being ignorant of the implication of exposure to it?
In an atmosphere of mistrust, some believe government officials put the fire to chase them away, so they (government) can use the place for something else.
The State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, had said that government plans to transform Olusosun dumpsite into parks and gardens, among others, starting with perimeter fencing.
He claimed the action was in line with the Cleaner Lagos Initiative of the government and conforms to international best practices.What does that say?
There should be some kind of intensive awareness campaign and sensitization by government for residents and scavengers on the mental, physical and health implications of the smoke on the dumpsites and dumpsites generally and the need for them to stay away from it as much as possible.
Government should introduce policies that encourage the involvement of Lagosians in recycling especially financial incentives, proper recycling facilities, and production of biodegradable materials which for now are almost nonexistent.
There should be emergency medical facilities to conduct free tests on children of residents to ensure there are no
respiratory tract issues and if there are, to treat it to avoid complex health issues in the future.
The test should also be conducted to ascertain if there are skin disorders abdominal problems and eye infections caused by the smoke especially the scavengers who expose themselves to smoke trying to eke out a living.
There is need to move dumpsite outside residential areas and need for government to plan, and monitor to ensure houses are not built within a certain radius of dumpsites.
If government indeed plans to build parks there, they must conduct environmental impact assessment to certify the safety of the soil.
Part of planning includes not waiting for another combustion for safety measures to be taken as well as decisions that will help save lives and property.
The State government had confessed that the structure of the Olusosun facility was risky and susceptible to all forms of hazards like the fire outbreak.
According to government the closure of the dumpsite was to protect the people and the environment to ensure their health and safety, forestall future occurrence, protect the health of residents and prevent a major disaster.
If this really is the case, government must as a matter of urgency, build sanitary landfills to avoid another Olusosun incident because a stitch in time saves nine.