Kenya: Lamu, Turkana Oil Fields Breed Diseases

Lokichar trading centre in Turkana (file photo).
30 October 2020

High carbondioxide concentration in the air in Turkana and Lamu has been blamed for the increasing levels of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in the region.

An environmental assessment report for the Lokichar Oil fields in Turkana and Lamu Marine crude oil terminal revealed the areas had the highest carbondioxide levels.

The report, conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya and released last week, measured the quality of air, water and soil. It showed an increasing level of URTIs both in Lamu and Lokichar.

URTIs are the most prevalent diseases in the area and are increasing yearly.

Poor cognitive performance

Data from Turkana South Sub-County Hospital in December last year showed that URTIs contributed to 55 per cent of all the reported cases, followed by eye infections, which are majorly attributed to air pollution.

"Locals in Lokichar allege that the oil drilling project has contributed to the high prevalence of the infections," said Stanley Chasis, a consultant of the project.

According to a research by the American academics, exposure to ambient carbondioxide in indoor environments can have harmful effects on the body at much lower levels, causing health problems including inflammation, reduced cognitive performance and kidney and bone problems. They found these health problems can be caused by exposure to carbondioxide levels as low as 1,000 parts per million (ppm) - a far lower limit than the 5,000 ppm level that had been widely accepted, researchers said.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, sum up a growing body of research into carbondioxide's health effects, which have to date been less explored than those of particulate matter (PM2.5) or nitrogen oxide.

The team behind the study warned that human carbondioxide exposure may be a growing problem in the coming years as projections suggest that by 2100 outdoor carbondioxide levels in some cities could exceed 1,000ppm for parts of the year.

Collating the findings of numerous studies, the academics summarised that acute exposure to high carbondioxide levels can have "adverse health outcomes", citing studies which observed inflammation and reduced cognitive performance above 1,000ppm.

"Continuous exposure to increased atmospheric carbondioxide could be an overlooked stressor of the modern and/or future environment," said the study.

Cardiovascular diseases

The report, conducted in 24 sites within the two counties, also identified particulate matter in the air, which impacts negatively on human health. "Inhaling of the particulate matter causes several diseases including cardiovascular ones, respiratory diseases and lung cancer," according to the World Health Organization.

"Lokichar is a semi-arid area which experiences long dry seasons with a lot of wind that increases the particulate matter concentration in the air," said the report.

However, the measurement of the particulate matter was done during the rainy season hence the level of dust was low.

The report recommended that the particulate matter be monitored frequently to ascertain the contribution of the ongoing projects to the high levels. "This is partly because the project areas are characterised by loose soil material and strong winds, which together contribute to particulate matter concentration in the air. Levels of Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen dioxide were also measured. However, they were found to be within the maximum allowed limit of 80 µg/m3," said the researchers.

The report recommended air quality monitoring on a quarterly basis to minimise the potential impact on people and nature. "National Environment Management Authority should undertake quarterly environmental audits for monitoring changes in the environment," they said.

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