24 September 2018

Nigeria: Residents Groan Under Steel Firm's Furnace

Workers of companies within the Amuwo-Odofin Industrial Estate have called on the Lagos State government to come to their aid by ending the continuous pollution of the industrial estate by Hongsxing Steel Company.

They claim activities of the firm is endangering lives as the fire-like fume constantly released into the atmosphere from the company's two large exhaust pipes is harmful to their health.

It was gathered that the state government had been severally petitioned by companies operating within the area, but rather than the petitioners getting reprieve, the Chinese firm has been reportedly unperturbed, while carrying on with its activities.

One of the companies operating within the industrial estate that has written several petitions about the activities of the steel company is Phamatex Industry.

In January 31, 2017, it wrote a petition to the General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) highlighting how the Chinese company is engaging in environmental pollution.

This was followed up with another petition to the Director, Occupational/Environmental health services, Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area.

There were two other petitions to the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) on April 8 and July 6, 2017 drawing attention to how trucks bringing in scraps obstruct free flow of traffic within the area.

With no positive response despite all the series of petitions written, a letter of reminder was sent to LASEPA on March 12, 2018.

Mr. Humphrey Mognogu, an employee of Phamatex, stated that the iron melting company's activities have become harmful to the entire neighbourhood, especially workers in the area, who are exposed to injurious air due to the hazardous gas emitted from the company's furnace.

He claimed that though LASEPA came to shut the company once, it was re-opened two hours later, with no alteration to its alleged hazardous activities.

According to him, the company has been carrying on with its activities as an organization above the law and with nobody able to call it to order.

Also speaking, the Corporate Manager, Saro Africa International Limited, Ufuoma Ogeleka, said many of their staff had complained bitterly about how the firm's operation has been a challenge to them health-wise.

She said her company was forced to relocate some of the administrative managers to its headquarter on Lagos Island and its training school to another location, as the staff complained about how the pollution makes them uncomfortable daily.

An employee of Agro Allied, Jubril Ahmed, said he had been in and out of hospital principally because of the activities of Hongsxing Steel Company. His company shares boundary with the iron melting company.

According to him, after a medical test was ran on him, he was told his sickness was due to the dirty dust he has been inhaling, which he claimed was from the exhaust pipes of the iron-melting company.

Another worker, Dare Oyegoke, disclosed that anytime the fire-like smoke is being produced, employees within the factory would be sneezing and sometimes become dizzy.

Austin Eyoma of Givanas Industry Nigeria Limited, whose company is opposite Hongsxing, said due to the activities of the iron-melting company, his Managing Director had to relocate from the Amuwo-Odofin Industrial Estate, as it was telling on his health.

He said before then, the office of the MD was moved to another section within its premises, when there was no improvement, he then relocated.

According to Eyoma, when the steel company's furnace is fully in operation, the thick smoke coming out of it travels as far as Surulere, especially Coker, Ijesha and Lawanson.

He added that sometimes, particles often dropped in his company's premises when the furnace is emitting fumes.

Reacting to the complaints, an employee of Hongsxing Steel Company, Mariam Toromade, said her company is doing its best to reduce the emission, reason it has been washing its filter bags weekly, which it replaced every two weeks.

She stated that the situation is not as bad as being painted by the petitioners.

In addition, the General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), Anthonio Augustine Ayodele, disagreed that his agency has been unconcerned about the plight of the companies and residents within the Amuwo-odofin Industrial Estate, because his agency has always responded to the several complaints about the operation of Hongsxing Steel Company.

"The emissions are products of the kind of scraps that were brought to the factory in producing the billets.

Some of these scrap metals are from vehicle coated with paint, which are chemicals that are injurious to human health.

So, LASEPA has always been on their neck that they should introduce a pre-treatment for the scrap metals brought to the factory, at least to do a washing and bleaching of the scraps before being pushed into the furnace."

According to Ayodele, the steel company complained that installing a pre-treatment machine would be an additional cost to its production.

"Also, to reduce the emission and the dust, we advised them to introduce what we call filter bags, which ensure what comes out is a cleaner air.

They also complained that the filter bags are rather too expensive. We recommended the filter bags should be changed at least twice a week.

"But from the report reaching me from my zonal office in Amuwo, it is just once a week the filter bag is changed and they keep complaining that the filter bags are not easy to come by in terms of funding, aside that they are having challenges clearing some of the ones imported."

When he was told that his agency seems to be handling the case with levity considering that the activities of the steel company is injurious to human lives, Ayodele rebuffed the claim. "How can we do that.

Human life and the environment are priority to us because we are meant to preserve the environment for better healthy lives for Lagosians."

He further said that air quality is paramount to his agency considering there are a number of residential estates close to the industrial estate.

"We told them that on monthly basis the zonal office must check their operation and any month they fail, we would sanction them.

The same company has been closed down and we would not fail to close them if they fail to meet the standard."

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