Controlling air pollution seems complex but nothing is impossible; we should all come together to combat it and step towards improving the air around us.” These words were by Professor Emmanuel Ofoezie, the Director of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University.
And they summarise the goal of the gathering of academics and government stakeholders in the environment space at the institute’s 11th Annual Conference on Environment and second Specialised Workshop for Environmental Health Practitioners.
The conference, co-hosted by the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the National Park Services (NPS), and the Environmental Health Oﬃcers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON), took place at the institute in OAU, Ile-Ife, from September 3 to 5. The theme was “Air pollution.”
Recent researches show that about 92 percent of the people worldwide do not breathe clean air. In addition, air pollution costs the global economy $5 trillion in welfare costs annually and it is worrisome to know that ground-level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26 per cent by 2030. Air pollution has killed approximately seven million people in the world and more people are dying daily.
Staff and students of the institute, experts in the field of environment and air pollution from within the university and outside, as well as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) participated in the conference.
It is worthy to note that NESREA, formerly known as Federal Environment Protection Agency (FEPA), had its beginnings midwifed at the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies.
Since 1973, World Environment Day (WED) has been celebrated as an annual event on June 5 to highlight the importance of a healthy environment to human lives, and solve the issues of the environment by implementing some positive environmental actions by government, organisations and individuals. In line with this, globally, several environment campaigns are organised around a particular chosen theme for the year.
To this end, the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Studies in 2008 inaugurated its Annual Conference on Environment to mark the WED and identify how each year’s theme aﬀects Nigeria and Africa with regards to problems and challenges posed, and the capacity-building needed by each region to address such problems and challenges.
Since then, the conference has become a regular annual event holding a few weeks after June 5 each year.
Professor Ofoezie, in his welcome speech, said, “The major objectives of the annual conference on the environment is to spread awareness among common people about the issues of the environment.” He added that “the conference will also help us identify gaps in existing national policies with a view to providing research evidences which could be used in policy making decisions in Nigeria.”
Transportation as major contributor to air pollution
The fast-growing automobile industry has been a major contributory factor that has helped to speed up industrialisation and provided a safe means of personal transportation.
The VC of OAU, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, represented at the event by Professor Victor Olaleye, said in his address that “Transportation is an important component in human daily life. However, while it has significant beneficial effects on the social interaction among humans, it is detrimental to the environment, being one of the major anthropogenic activities that drive air pollution regionally and globally.”
He cited a report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which stated that the number of vehicles in the world is estimated to be over 800 million and in many places, it is increasing at rates higher than human population growth.
Also, emission from the transport sector is about 20 per cent total greenhouse gas and 80 per cent pollutants.
These, the VC said, are alarming scenarios capable of making the air unfit for breathing.
“No wonder, the global transport related risk factors are estimated to be the most important contributor to public health challenges by 2020.
“Air pollution is a menace and it is therefore necessary to combat this growing hazard,” the VC stated.
NESREA admits to inadequate environmental policy, action
In its presentation at the conference, NESREA, Nigeria’s agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations, admitted that adequate environmental policy and action were lacking, adding that this had consequences.
NESREA Director-General, Professor Aliyu Jauro, said that “Many cities around the world, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria, are experiencing rapid growth. Yet, in the absence of adequate environmental policy and action, this growth is occurring at considerable, and often increasing, economic and social costs.”
In the DG’s keynote address delivered by his representative, Mr Adeosun Adewale, he however stated that the Nigerian government had put in place 33 environmental regulations in “critical areas of the environment.”
Of these, the following are to address air pollution. They are: National Environmental (Control of Vehicular Emissions from Petrol and Diesel Engines) Regulations, 2011; National Environmental (Air Quality Control) Regulations, 2014; and National Environmental (Control of Bush, Forest Fire and open Burning) Regulations, 2011.
Others are National Environmental (Ozone Layer Protection) Regulations, 2009 and National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations, 2009.
The DG said, “As part of NESREA’s eﬀorts to support the NDC’s and to implement provisions contained in the National Environmental (Control of Vehicular Emissions from Petrol and Diesel Engines) Regulation 2011 and the National Environmental (Air Quality Control) Regulations, 2014, NESREA is carrying out the following programmes:
“Ban on the importation of two–stroke engines found in low powered applications like motor cycles, mopeds, marine outboard motors, gardening equipment including lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, chainsaws.
“Acquisition of Air Quality Monitoring Equipment (both mobile stations and hand-held tools) to enable the agency monitor and generate accurate data on the state of the air quality in Nigeria, which will form the basis for policy making.
“Establishment of the National Vehicular Emissions Control Programme (NVECP) and National Generator Emissions Control Programme (NGECP) in partnership with relevant Stakeholders to address the emissions from mobile and stationary sources.”
Professor Jauro said the agency is “almost concluding arrangements for the formal launch of the programmes.”
An expert’s view of the issue
Air quality expert, noise expert and life cycle analyst, Professor Jacob Sonibare, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, OAU presented the lead paper of the conference, simply titled, ‘Air pollution’
In it, he stated that air pollution can be in the indoor or outdoor environment. He said it had been described as the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide.
Professor Sonibare said associated deaths cost global economy about US$225 billion in 2013, quoting World Bank sources.
He cited a mysterious fog that engulfed some parts of Lagos on October 12, 2005, and the ambient environment of the Warri Petroleum Refinery and the atmosphere around textile industries in Kaduna, as instances of air pollution due to human activities.
In these cases which he and his team of researchers investigated, the offending gases were found to include oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter (PM) and Benzene, Toluene and Xylene (BTX).
Indoors, air pollution could arise from cigarette smoking. Heavy metal from furniture, floor finishing and vehicle exhausts were also noted to be pollutants according to studies he mentioned in the paper.
All sources of air pollution, the professor noted, had adverse effects on vegetation and human health.
Professor Sonibare underscored the importance of “monitoring, modelling and controls to adequately manage this all important activity especially those associated with man and the environment.”
He said that “ It can be concluded that continuous studying of this topic will be of great advantage to how air pollution can be controlled to the beneﬁt of all. It is therefore recommended that research eﬀorts be sustained about the topic to ensure that more control measures are developed.”
In his remarks at the conference, the Conservator-General of National Parks Service, Ibrahim Goni, represented by the Conservator of Old Oyo National Park, Henry Ndoma, said that national parks were key to solving the air pollution problem by preserving the nation’s natural forest cover which acts as a carbon sink. Trees are known to be clean air recyclers, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen for humans to breathe.
“It is because of our activities that you can see a representative sample of Sahel vegetation and other vegetations. We preserve the integrity of natural forests,” he said. “Therefore, the service remains relevant to Nigerians today.”