The app, AirVIsual tells you the level of pollution in the air in various cities. I am visiting Port Harcourt and I don’t need an app to tell me that the air is dangerously polluted. For days, the soot-infested air has been stinging the ulcer in my tummy so I am in terrible pain. The ulcer currently serves as my own biological app, my inbuilt air pollution sensor. You see, I would normally feel the stinging of the ulcer, if I was around a smoker. However I’ve been feeling it all day, thanks to black soot that fills the atmosphere every day and night in Port Harcourt. But I am not only concerned for myself.
Babies breathe it in and so do the elderly. These two groups are always the most susceptible to illnesses caused by air pollution. Incidentally they are the two groups that aren’t on social media; platforms where PH residents can make noise about this problem. There are mentions and posts about it on Facebook and other social media, by some PH residents.
The good people who live there are not sure if there is a link between the soot and the cancer related deaths that have occurred lately. Lung cancer is a high risk when one is exposed to air pollution, but so is the risk of bladder cancer and other life threatening illnesses, according to the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC). As for the many cases of respiratory illnesses among children and adults, you can guess what the cause is.
Last month, I moved out of Port Harcourt to escape the pollution and trust me, the situation is frightening. From 2016 till date, Rivers State residents have been blowing out black catarrh from their noses, and washing black dirt off their hands even when they haven’t touched anything. Everything from cars to furniture is covered in soot and as such it is very difficult to keep homes and vehicles clean. Did I mention that there are babies and toddlers who breathe in this stuff?
On the 19th of April, there was a march by concerned PH residents through the streets and to the Government House, to demand some action (any action) over the matter. For months, the armed forces have compounded the matter by burning the many illegal refineries, which are being fingered as the cause of the air pollution. Burning the illegal refineries and their products releases more pollutants into the air. In the nation’ s capital and other parts of the country, people mistake the news about soot in Rivers State with the matter of the Ogoni clean up (another environmental disaster in Rivers State).
Since the start of this soot problem, the only help that Port Harcourt residents have ever gotten is the one which comes from Mother Nature, as the rains usually clear the air temporarily. Except that nowadays the rain leaves whitish moisture on all objects – disturbing. It is not clear how many more danger signs the Federal and State Governments need. Some of the folks who live in the soot kingdom of Rivers State have rightly said that this matter deserves as much attention as any genocide anywhere else in the world. They are right, I feel it in my gut.