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Lagos needs to do more on air pollution

IN its latest World Air Quality report, a Swiss air quality technology company, IQAir, estimates that the level of air pollution in Lagos State, the commercial nerve centre of the country, is seven to 10 times higher than the recommended World Health Organisation air quality guidelines. According to the report, cities such as Doha, Lyon, Hong Kong, Singapore, Munich, Kyoto, Vienna, and Paris – which are heavily industrialised –are still in line with the WHO air quality guidelines.

The alarming figure recorded for Lagos, a metropolis of over 20 million persons and Nigeria’s industrial hub, portends a looming threat to the health of its citizens and the country; reversing it should be a priority of the Lagos State Government.

Based on one of the WHO recommendations of Particulate Matter concentration 2.5 (μg/m³) on an annual average, Lagos was said to be “experiencing some rather poor-quality air with a United States AQI figure of 160 which classified it as ‘unhealthy,’” at the beginning of 2021.

PM 2.5 particles are the worst type of air pollutants because of their ability to easily penetrate the lungs, due to their small sizes and circulate throughout the entire body leading to systemic inflammation and carcinogenicity. The Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency admitted that air pollution was responsible for over 30,000 premature deaths in Lagos in 2021.

In 2018, according to the World Bank, ambient air pollution led to about 11,200 premature deaths in Lagos, the highest in West Africa. Children under five years of age were the most affected, accounting for 60 per cent of total deaths while the adults experienced heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A World Bank study found that illness and premature deaths due to ambient air pollution caused losses of $2.1 billion in 2018, representing about 2.1 per cent of the state’s GDP. In 2012, the WHO had revealed that Nigeria experienced nearly seven million deaths caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution.

Experts have linked air contamination to maladies such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and systemic inflammation, and an increase to the risk of developing cancer. This type of pollution has been said to be more lethal than unsanitary hygiene practices and malnutrition.“There is suggestive evidence also linking air pollution exposure with increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes (i.e., low-birth weight, small for gestational age), other cancers, diabetes, cognitive impairment, and neurological diseases,” says the WHO.

IQAir identified the major sources of air pollution in Lagos as coming from vehicle emissions, closely followed by industry and domestic energy use.

In January 2022, LASEPA said it had partnered with the World Bank, the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, and the Lagos Computerised Vehicle Inspection Service to tackle vehicular emissions. However, no substantial changes have been implemented to curb air pollution.

This is largely due to the city’s poor road networks which have resulted in long-running problems of daily traffic congestion. Additionally, fossil fuels are heavily relied upon for use and the locally available petrol typically has high sulphur levels – 200 times higher than US standards for diesel, according to the World Bank.

Additionally, part of the failure to adequately tackle poor air quality in Lagos is tied to Nigeria’s low priorities regarding empiricism and regular measurable statistics. Nigeria does not properly count and account for every detail of its society and this has fostered a debilitating culture of ignorance and uncertainty, especially in the formulation of government policies.

For instance, the current number of vehicles plying Lagos roads is difficult to know; the last figure on the state government’s website dated 2017 indicated that over five million cars and 200,000 commercial vehicles plied the state’s roads. These figures, however, are not reflective of what obtains in 2023.

Industrial emissions have also been reported to haunt commercial zones in Lagos such as Apapa, Idumota, Ikeja, and Odogunyan, where cement, chemicals, furniture, and steel processing industries are concentrated.Due to the energy crisis across the country, many Lagos residents and businesses depend on standby generators to meet their needs, and this has been another source of air pollution.

Considering the long-term effects of fossil fuel combustion on human health and the climate, countries like Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Ireland, and Sweden, have pledged to either phase out the production of fossil fuels altogether, or commit to a production phase-out with a legislated end date for existing production.Apart from central government efforts, some cities have taken bold steps;Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield, and Bristol, in the United Kingdom, have all rolled out Clean Air Zones in which all vehicles that exceed emission standards are charged.

LACVIS has said it is carrying out emission tests on vehicles using the control standards provided by LASEPA, to ensure that non-compliant vehicles get retrofitted before they are certified for use. This should include regular inspections of automobiles to ensure that cars releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere should be removed from the roads.

Relevant agencies should work towards using compressed natural gas as an alternative to petrol and diesel in vehicles. Alternative energy sources can also be used to reduce the need for generators in households.

Citizens need to be more aware on the dangers of air pollution emanating from fossil fuel for domestic use and although LASEPA has embarked on this scheme, it needs to extend it to the entire state. Biogas and other forms of gas should be used instead of firewood.

The government should ensure that factories that are located close to residential areas strictly conform to guidelines on sustainable practices. Emissions from industries could be lowered with the use of newer, better technologies such as solar power, the use of filters and toxic gas absorbers.

Furthermore, there should be a massive and collaborative effort to increase tree-planting activities across the state to improve air quality. Such remedial measures should also be adopted by the other 35 states.

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