By ‘Damilola Roleola ― Ewekoro local government area (LGA) in Ogun State has been the host community to one of Lafarge Africa cement plants in Nigeria for over fifty years. In July 2015, it merged with Holcim Ltd to form LafargeHolcim. The residents of the community have existed in perpetuity with the company in what could be termed a mutualistic symbiosis relationship.
The relationship is however threatened by cement dust in the area. After saving up for several years to build a house as a craftsman, Sukanmi Ilesanmi, bows his head in regret as he recounts how he was diagnosed with asthma a few months after moving into his house in Egbado Community.
For him and his family, the joy of moving into a new home disappeared following Mr. Ilesanmi’s repeated visits to hospital at Lantoro in Abeokuta, the state capital. He attributes this plight to the quarrying activities of Lafarge in Ewekoro.
Mr. Ilesanmi is one of the residents displeased with the activities of the Lafarge Cement plant in Ewekoro because of the health implications of dust.
As part of efforts to contribute to the development of the area, Lafarge cement constructed a hospital in the community in 2015 but it is a no-go facility for residents because of the dust that often mar the operation of health workers in the facility.
The cement dust is one of the major reasons Mr. Ilesanmi and many other residents go out in search of medical attention.
At the moment, many residences and business ventures including the branch of First Bank in the area are totally coated with cement dust, a situation that allegedly led to the suspension of banking activities in the branch, our reporter learnt.
Our reporter also observed a heap of cement dust swept from the ground by cleaners of the bank.
Aside from this, the Ewekoro Police Post is also saturated in an unending cement bath. Upon inspection, our reporter discovered that the division was being manned by one officer at the time.
The interior of the police post was equally not spared from the invasion of cement dust just like many other homes along the Ewekoro express road. The roof of the police post was covered with a thick layer of cement dust.
Had the roof been metal, the plight of the officers would have been heightened whenever the rain falls. The officer who spoke to our reporter under anonymity because he was not authorised to speak said they close their windows at night amid heat rather than allow cement dust to invade their offices.
The heat, however, is not without its consequences as he rashes on his skin. The officer further alleged that the police post has not received any gesture from Lafarge’s corporate social responsibility.
Amidst the discomfort brought to the residents of Ewekoro from the activities of their industrious neighbour, they are also bedeviled by the bad state of the Ewekoro express road.
Who is listening to the cries of Ewekoro residents?
A visit to the Ewekoro local government office in Itori revealed that the local government is equally affected by the cement dust and the LG is not empowered to intervene.
A staff member who also did not want his name on print at the local government office explained that cleaners clean the tables in the office more than five times daily in order to set it free from cement dust. She added that the plight is heightened during the dry season.
Contrary to accounts of many residents in the area, a popular youth, David Egunleti, argued that “Lafarge has done a lot to reduce the release of dust, they even change the direction of the pipe and got a dust extraction machine.”
He added that most residents complain because they want the monetary compensation given by Lafarge to be shared amongst households instead of using them to build facilities and cater for social amenities in the area.
Implication of cement dust on humans
Two experts – Mrs. Adefeyigbe, the Assistant Chief nurse of the Oke-Ilewo health centre in Abeokuta and Damilare Akinwunmi, a nurse in Lagos, remarked that living in a dusty area can trigger asthma in potential patients. This seems to be the case of Mr Ilesanmi in Egbado Community.
On her part, Mrs. Adefeyigbe explains that prolonged dust exposure may cause bronchitis, lung diseases, skin diseases and other respiratory diseases.
An environmental toxicologist, Oluwafemi Sarumi, further explains the environmental and health hazards of cement dust pollution.
“The most exploited topic relating to cement production is its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, which accounts for about 5–7% of global anthropogenic Carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.
“Also, the thick layer of dust on parked cars or on roadways as well as a befouled atmosphere creates chaos and public outcry among residents near cement plants. In these communities, children are the most vulnerable. After which we have men and lastly females.
“Effects on plants vary from plant growth to productivity. The effect occurs from reduced light for photosynthesis, increase in leaf temperature and mineral availability, alteration of plant enzymes, and reduction in leaf size, number, and foliar area. Contribution to ground level ozone formation, smog and mist, acid rain.”
He added that cement dust causes difficulty in breathing, conjunctivitis, blurred vision, morbidity, chronic obstructive pulmonary, preterm delivery, psychasthenia, endocrine disruption, and infertility.
“The severity is dependent on the duration of exposure, concentration and element constituent of the dust, and individual sensitivity,” he added.
He, however, recommends that living more than five kilometres away from the cement plant would keep residents out of harm’s way.
We are operating below local regulations — Lafarge
When this reporter reached out to Lafarge’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mrs. Ginikanwa Frank, she said the company’s two kiln lines are running on best available technology dust control equipment and the company is currently operating below the Nigerian local regulations of 50 mg/Nm3 and the more stringent Holcim standards.
She also note that dust emissions are also being monitored by government regulatory bodies to ensure continuous compliance.
“Quarry operations are done in a safe manner with a distance more than 4km to the nearest community. Blasting operation is done professionally to minimise the effect of ground vibration and noise that can cause land subsidence. Proper monitoring of noise and vibrations are done and within global standards of 114db and 5mm/s respectively.
“There is also a reclamation plan being followed strictly to rehabilitate the mining area to restore the land to its original state. Mine operations and dewatering is also done to minimise impacts on aquifers by not exceeding the limestone final reduce level,” she said in an email response.
In response to the health care services available to residents of Ewekoro, she explained that: “The Community health centres are equipped with relevant and necessary equipment. Personnel from Ogun State Ministry of Health through Ewekoro local government are running the health centres.”
“No dust inhalation health related issues have been reported as a result of Lafarge’s activities,” she added.
We’ll sustain compliance with regulatory, health standards — Govt
In response to the discharge of cement dust in Ewekoro, the Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor on environment, Ola Oresanya said, “the cement industry is an extractive industry and cement production has its byproduct which comes from production. There are certain things that must be done for safety and health when we talk about the stacks where you have the particulate dust emission which must meet up to certain standards.
“There must be precipitators in the stacks to ensure clean emission and it’s our responsibility here in Ogun State to ensure compliance with these standards for all extractive industries. For Ewekoro, we’ve compelled Lafarge to have these precipitators in their plants and they’ve shown us evidence that they have it. We were also told that they were installing the one at Sagamu.
“Most times when we go to Ewekoro for inspection, their precipitators are at work but after we leave, the community keeps reporting that there are dust particles in the area, but dust can come from various sources. Dust could come either from the stack or mining of limestone while blasting.
“We also have an environmental impact of these extraction activities and mitigation for industries to take. But one thing common with some of these industries is that they circumvent this mitigation because to them, compliance means so much money.
“Most times, they get the community to keep quiet by disguising under CSR and also pay some people and when regulators come around, they’d say they have no problem, until some people that didn’t receive the money come out to agitate and before we move in to work on their agitations, they must have been settled and they tell us that there is no more problem.
“Also, there is no extractive industry that doesn’t have a devastating effect on the environment. Every extractive industry degrades the environment wherever they are. By the time cement plants blast underground limestone, they leave big holes and they are not replacing anything under the ground.
“There’s a risk of subsidence and a distortion in the geographical aquifer in which there is water covering some limestone and they have to extract the water to get to the limestone. While doing this, wells and reservoirs in the area dry up.
“Then there’s potential for tremor from shock waves which can damage properties in neighbouring communities. Also, when the cement dust settles on crops or galvanised roofs, it destroys them.”
He added that his office will look into the discharge of dust in Ewekoro once again following this report and ensure compliance.