Ikoyi building collapse: Air pollution threatens residents’ health

Lara Adejoro and Amarachi Okeh

Almost a week after the Ikoyi building collapse, there are now fresh concerns about the impacts of the unfortunate incident on the health of Ikoyi residents, as well as the environment. Our correspondents, LARA ADEJORO and AMARACHI OKEH, report:

To most residents on Gerrard and Aso streets in Ikoyi – the major adjoining communities to the site of the 21-storey building that collapsed last Monday – the dust from the collapsed edifice has settled.

Experts are, however, urging caution, noting that the absence of visible dust does not indicate that the environment is now free of air pollution.

They noted that with very sensitive equipment, particles still enveloping the Ikoyi area are detectable for up to ten days, adding that the blanket of fine dust has consequences: cardiorespiratory and pulmonary complications.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, a global model assessment in 2014 estimated that exposure to dust particles caused about 400,000 premature deaths by cardiopulmonary disease in the over 30 population.

WMO noted that an average lifetime of dust particles in the atmosphere ranges from a few hours for particles with a diameter larger than 10 μm, to more than 10 days for finest particles.

“Depending on weather and climate, dust can remain suspended in the air for days, causing allergy outbreaks far from their source,” it added.

Researchers believe that the inhalation of dust particles may damage nose and throat mucosa, creating favourable conditions for bacterial infection and iron oxides embedded in dust particles may enhance the risk of infection.

 Dust from the Ikoyi building collapse

An emergency responder who craved anonymity told our correspondents that even though dust has now reduced in the Ikoyi area, rescue workers at the site are used to the dust. “It’s part of the hazard of the job and we are used to it; we’ve been doing this for years. Besides, this place has been fumigated,” he said.

However, experts say the dust released in the air can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed, which can lead to respiratory diseases.

A professor of public health, Tanimola Akande, said long-term exposure to dust can lead to lung function impairment and some form of pneumoconiosis.

“The building collapse will affect the quality of air with the air pollution from cement dust.

“Most times in our environment, we don’t often bother about it and hardly assess the level of air pollution.

“But, there are health hazards from inhaling such dust. Such dust can precipitate asthmatic attacks for people who are asthmatic. The dust can also lead to acute rhinitis (catarrh),” Akande said.

Based on the 2006 census, Eti-Osa LGA, where Ikoyi is, has 287,785 residents. An estimated 25,000 people live in the most affluent part of the state where the building came down. As far as the speed particulate matters (specks of dust) goes, the entire stretch of Eti-Osa is already covered in dust.

 “We could not breathe”

PUNCH HealthWise gathered that some terrified families were forced to flee their homes because of the dust. They had to stay with loved ones until they were told their homes were safe to return to.

Eyewitnesses told PUNCH HealthWise that acloud of dust  engulfed the neighbourhood, darkening the sky and making it difficult to breathe.

A resident on Gerard Road, Iyke Okereke, said he was around when the building collapsed, disclosing that he fled when the building began to rattle before it eventually collapsed.

“It shook like an earthquake.The whole environment was cloudy.There was dust everywhere; we could not breathe, we could not see but we had to run anyway,” Okereke said.

 

Another resident who craved anonymity said the whole place was covered with dust. “It was like night season, the whole compound was messed up.We are still sweeping the compound till now; the buildings and cars were covered with dust.”

Resident fainted

A security official who identified himself as Joshua on Aso Street said the occupants of the house where he works left for another place.

“They had all gone to work but when they heard about it, they didn’t come home that day; they didn’t sleep here.

“I could not breathe here. In fact, the house-help fainted and I had to call the driver who quickly rushed her to the hospital amidst the chaos. She’s not on duty now, they told her to rest for a while in her house,” he said.

Another resident, Ezekiel Chibueze, explained that he was about to leave Parkview Estate when the incident happened.

“I was around the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in that area when I saw everyone running for their lives. I was thinking it was an earthquake. We could not even use the lift; the noise was strange and the cars around were dusty,” he said.

While the emergency respondents may be used to dust, residents of Ikoyi – the most affluent neighbourhood in Lagos – may share a different opinion.

 Lessons from abroad

On Thursday, June 24, 2021, Champlain Towers South, a 12-storey beachfront condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, United States, partially collapsed. Ninety-eight people died.

However, the teams involved in the rescue of survivors continuouslyemphasised the importance of taking precautions against the dust, noting that it had serious health consequences if inhaled carelessly.

Dr. David Perzant, who runs the World Trade Centre Respiratory Health Initiative, was reported to be in communication with the rescue team very early on and shared ideas on steps that could be implemented to reduce health risks from the dust. He also noted that P100 masks (which is the proper respiratory protection) were required, as well as gloves and protective coverings.

Prof. Akande, however, has cautioned about the health risk of exposure to dust from the Ikoyi area, noting that it can lead to impairment of lung function and other organs of the body.

To the public health expert, the government should be taking proactive steps to address the concerns on air quality and prevent long-term exposure to dust and its attendant health consequences.

Also speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Idowu Adegoke, a health and environmental sustainability professional and chairman of Lagos State Recycling Association, said a lot of pollution is ongoing at the site in Ikoyi at the moment.

“As the evacuation is going on, there’s a lot of pollution going on there. I expected that place to have been cordoned off but up till now, I’m not sure it has been done.

“For those who live around there, there could be long-term implications that might not manifest now if they have inhaled those dust into their lungs.

“Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system.

“Breathing polluted air for a long period can cause more serious problems. It can cause infection of the lungs or throat. Any kind of ailment can come from it.”

Adegoke urged those who were exposed to the dust to go for a check-up.He also noted that the air around the vicinity is no longer fresh, due to the evacuation going on.

On what the state government should do about the situation in the immediate term, he said the area should be cordoned off while residents should be educated on now how to stay safe and healthy.

In the long term, he said, there should be legislation that such collapsed structure should be covered up with antidust material while other necessary safety measures should also be adhered to.

“I think the government should be more up and doing in maintaining health and safety procedures in construction.

“Another thing is that we have a huge construction waste and I don’t know what the state government will do about it,” he stated.

PUNCH HealthWise called and messaged the Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Health, Tunbosun Ogunbanwo, for comments on what the ministry was doing regarding the air quality and safety of residents in the area. However, as of the time of filing this report, Ogunbanwo has not responded.

SOURCE: THE PUNCH

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