By Patrick Aigbokhan
The prevailing negative effects on human health that arise from dumping of toxic waste in Koko town in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State by some erring firms has triggered reactions from Nigeria’s civil organization, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).
In ERA/FoEN’s recent reaction to the situation, the group called for a swift enforcement of the law against companies involved in dumping of the human lives-endangering wastes in the town.
Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, who spoke at a press briefing held Wednesday at the group’s Lagos office, said it has become a matter of urgency for the Delta State government and the federal agency National Environmental Standard & Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to immediately set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the recent dumping of the toxic waste in the town.
Ojo noted that, owing to complaints by some locals, ERA/FoEN worked with some researchers to extract soil and water samples from the community and sent them to a certified laboratory where it was discovered that over a dozen chemicals were in the dumped waste.
He mentioned the dangerous chemicals to include, the poly nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), Oil and grease, Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPH) and BETEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene) and some heavy metals with values higher than acceptable levels of Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
“Not only is ERA/FoEN disturbed by this trend, we are also very alarmed about the Nigerian government seemingly incentivisation of waste imports and dumping in the country due to lowering environmental standards, and the lack of compliance of extant environmental laws.
In the wake of the toxic dumping the issue is being discussed in hush undertones suggesting conflicts and division in the community as to how to handle the waste. While some have aligned with the company involved and demanding compensation others insist on the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry to unravel the persistence of toxic waste dumping in Niger delta and in particular Koko town,” the ERA/FoEN Executive Director said.
Over the years now, persistent ecological onslaught has been experienced by people of the Niger Delta, following continuous perpetration by corporations and their Nigerian collaborators, which has lead to massive pollution of water bodies and soil contamination.
It would be recalled, in 1987, an Italian businessmen Gianfranco Raffaeli and Renato Pent, of the Waste Broker firms Ecomar and Jelly Wax respectively, signed an illegal agreement with an unsuspecting Nigerian businessman, Sunday Nana, to use his property for storage of 18,000 drums of hazardous waste for approximately $100 a month. Italy is believed to produce between 40 and 50 million tons of industrial wastes and 16 million tons of household wastes each year, most of which are exported to developing countries like Nigeria for disposal. Nana was said to have been made to believe the wastes were substances relating to the building industry, and were residual and allied chemicals.
Ojo noted that by the time the truth of the matter was unveiled, it was discovered that the contents included “toxic and radioactive” substances including asbestos fiber and dioxin, among other dangerous chemicals. The Koko people and those who handled the wastes were exposed to the hazards of the chemicals and some were hospitalized with problems ranging from chemical burns, nausea, to paralysis.
According to Dr. Ojo, the chemicals included resins, solvents and pigments that cause inflammation of vital human organs, poisoning the blood system and cancers. Nana reportedly died while watching the toxics.
Earlier reports, however had it that it took several media stories before the then Ibrahim Babangida junta stepped in and made some arrests and finally through diplomatic means ensured that the toxic wastes were returned by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to sender in Italy.
The incident played a crucial role in the birth of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) charged with the administration and enforcement of the provisions of environmental laws in Nigeria. In addition, the government enacted the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act, 1988, to deal specifically with illegal dumping of harmful waste.