Soot Menace: What The People Say

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The issue of “Black Soot” has been a major concern in Rivers State since 2016. At a time, Rivers State Government ordered an investigation headed by the Commissioner for Environment, Prof Roseline Konya. The panel made up of experts and other concerned citizens made public their report indicating that many factors were to blame.
Among factors fingered were burning of black tyres, industrial pollution and also illegal refineries.
The report also blamed security agencies, especially the Navy, Joint Task Force and National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) for compounding the problem, since they burn illegal refineries, instead of handing over the facilities to the appropriate authorities.
This year, the soot problem erupted again sometime in March, and there was a protest by some groups to Government House and the State Assembly.
While the State Government has challenged the federal government to live to its billings to check the menace, the Minister of Environment says something will be done soon.
The Tide went to town recently to get the people’s opinion on the matter and what could be done to solve this menacing environmental challenge. Below are excerpts:
Comrade Bestman Opusunju – Director Mobilisation, The Ambassadors Development Foundation
“Well the issue of black soot has been a major challenge for the past one year. Where I live along the Ibeto Road in Old Port Harcourt Township we experience black soot daily. When you wake up in the morning you will discover black substances on your vehicle even on clothes left outside overnight.
“So the issue of soot has become so worrisome in the state, I believe the oil companies are not doing enough to tackle the problem, that is why our NGO is campaigning seriously in enlightening both the companies and the citizens to be alert.
“We are insisting as a body that the oil companies should cut down on their pollution so the soot problem can go down.
“For me, I believe the oil companies contribute to this soot problem about 70% of the problem. Also bunkerers and owners of illegal refineries contribute to the soot problem. The cooking of this crude oil, without the normal refining process sends the condiments into the air
“We are advising the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Science and Technology to intervene in the matter.
“Already we have begun sensitisation tour in the rural areas, where activities of illegal refineries are high, to educate them on why they should stop this act, to make sure we discourage them from such business.
Anita Ogunna- Journalist: “The soot problem is everywhere and personally I have witnessed it in my house. You can hear my voice very coarse; I have had this terrible cough for the past one week. Naturally, I am prone to cough and catarrh now that the soot menace has worsened. I take drugs to reduce the problem, because of the effect on my breathing. I take drugs to ensure that I do not get broken down.
“Apart from that, in my house everyday I mob and clean my upholstery and other equipment. If you remove your foot wear and march on the bare floor of my house, you will see black foot marks on the tiles. If you walk from the room to the sitting room, you will discover that all your feet are black. Even though my house is up there in Rukpoku where there is no major river I still observe black soot. Sometimes when I close my windows, when I get to the house I still see these black particles settled on the house equipment.
“Honestly I wish the government, environmentalists and other bodies will intervene to stop this soot problem. I see this as everybody’s business because it’s dangerous to the environment and to our health as well.
“For me, I don’t think the agencies are doing enough. Why can’t they go there and stop it. I don’t think they are doing anything.
“Glaringly the source is these illegal refineries. For many years since we had the refineries we did not experience such. I have lived in Rivers State for more than 20 years, and they have been refining crude oil, so why in the last one or two years we are experiencing this kind of thing? In 2015, we didn’t experience this, but this time around it seems like many people have gone into the business of “Kpofire” as they call it in local parlance.
“You saw what happened at Woji area, where an 8 million dollar worth of ship was burnt because of the illegal refinery close to the wharf. The situation calls for concern and I pray everybody begins to act before it turns into something else.
Egberi Asitoona, Journalist
“I believe that this soot is caused by illegal bunkering. For instance, I am from Bakana in Degema Local Government Area, I travel often to my home town with speed boat and in the morning you would see black soot on the river floating.
In the night period, you would see smoke from the creeks and something must be responsible for this smoke. Over the years, there have been boom of illegal refineries; they call it “kpofire” in local parlance. Through the “kpofire,” they produce kerosene, diesel and motor spirit.
“Though a lot of people blame industrial companies and refineries, but that is not true. We have had the refineries for over 20 years, yet we never had this experience. You can confirm that since these illegal refineries started this soot problem worsened. If you doubt what I’m saying just go to the riverine areas and you will observe thick black smoke coming up in the swamps.
“I will call on government to monitor this illegal refineries and stop illegal bunkering. Alternatively, they can provide jobs for these boys who are involved in the business; the security agencies should also stop destroying illegal refineries by burning them, since it worsens the problem. They can seize these facilities and handover the crude oil to refineries to use.
Jane Jack (Civil Servant): I have witnessed the black soot because I stay somewhere in town. The soot is like a black dust that settles on tables and everything, outside the house. Overtime if you leave anything outside you will see this dust settle on it.
“The black soot is dirty and unsightly, sometimes when you put your fingers in your nostrils when you wake in the morning, you will see it. It even settles on water and clothing that are hung outside. If it rains, the atmosphere gets clearer and you don’t see it for sometime.
“It’s so terrible these days such that my sister who attended a wedding ceremony recently told me that during a buffet party they had, they saw particles of the soot on their food.
“I will advise people to avoid having buffet outside or buy any edible thing that is not covered, especially open food.
Anthony Amadi, Rumuolumeni Resident:
“Anybody who says he or she does not feel the soot is ignorant. You can only talk about the level of soot you experience in your neighbourhood. For the past one year, I can say that the level of soot is on the increase. I believed that much had not been done or much said about it, until recently there was a protest.
“As much as I know the soot is carbon monoxide and it’s very dangerous to health. You’ve heard of families dying of generator smoke, so it’s with soot. Throwing carbon monoxide into their air is dangerous because everybody inhales it.
“My worry is that security agencies and the authorities are doing little. The earlier they addressed the problem, the better.
“If it persists, they should expect the worst, in terms of people dropping dead.
“The truth remains that if indigenes from the Niger Delta do not engage in illegal refining, then the security agencies will have nothing to destroy. But there are better ways to destroy these things. They should find better ways; otherwise they should hand over the products to the refineries to use.
“Also, the state government should dialogue with other federal agencies and work out the best measures. They can also talk to indigenes on why they should stop the illegal refining business.