Cancer-causing metal detected in water supplied to Lagos residents
BY KUNLE FALAYI
In the second part of his report, KUNLE FALAYI takes on the Lagos State Water Corporation armed with the report of a chemical analysis done on a sample of the contaminated water which some Lagos residents drink oblivious of the dangers they face
At Ijora-Badia, one of Lagos’ most notorious slums, living around dirt is obviously not strange to the residents. But the water they buy from vendors who get their supply from the Lagos State Water Corporation may be doing them more harm than good.
A sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, which is Target 10 under Goal Seven of the Millennium Development Goals, continues to be an illusion to people like the residents of this area. According to the United Nations, at least 783 million people the world over lack access to clean water.
Our correspondent noticed that many residents of the Ijora-Badia community dispose of their human wastes in open sewers while most of the pipes laid by water vendors in the community pass through the same drains and sewers. Yet common cases of dysentery and diarrhoea among children of the community do not seem to be raising alarm bells.
Where dysentery is a ‘regular visitor’
After 28-year-old food vendor, Mrs. Khadijat Akibu, narrated how her son died in June 2014 after a bout of his ‘usual’ dysentery (published in the first part of this report last Saturday), a search for more families with similar cases revealed how common the disease is among the residents of the area.
Thirty-two-year-old hairdresser, Adunni Alimi, told our correspondent that she no longer saw it as a problem when her three-year-old daughter, Bisi, complained of dysentery because “it always comes and goes.”
She lives only about 30 yards away from Akibu, and there is no doubt that she and her family also use the same water supplied by water vendors in the area.
“Bisi had dysentery last in November. She has dysentery almost every three weeks but she recovers after we give her drugs. That is why we are not really worried,” Alimi said.
Initially, when her daughter started her usual frequent stooling, Bisi would take her to Grace and George Hospital, a private hospital in the area, but now, she simply goes to a drug store to buy Flagyl and Tetracycline anytime the bout sets in because she can’t afford to take her daughter to hospital all the time.
Does she think that the recurrent dysentery might have something to do with the water they drink in the house? Alimi, whose expression changed to one of confusion, answered that it could not be so.
“I know well that the water the vendors sell in Ijora-Badia come from the water corporation,” she said.
That was the same reaction Julius Aji, another resident of the area, gave when our correspondent was speaking with his wife.
His wife, Chinenye, had told our correspondent that they had to take their six-year-old son to the hospital when the dysentery he had on December 15, 2014 entered the third day without abating.
“That is the second time he would develop dysentery in the last four months. But this last one really frightened us because we went to buy the same drug that were prescribed during his last case and it just did not work,” Chinenye said.
“You reporters have come with your questions again. If we use borehole water, maybe I will agree that there is contamination. But we use water corporation water here,” Julius interjected when his wife was asked if they had ever worried that the water they use in the house might be contaminated.
But these families are just two of the many others who our correspondent spoke with and who admitted to battling recurrent cases of dysentery in Ijora-Badia.
However, dysentery is just a minor problem compared with the danger the analysis of the water taken in the area revealed.
Cancer-causing metal, high bacteria load
The result of the analysis revealed a frightening chemical and biological composition.
The silica level detected is 14.20, which is at least 400 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s acceptable maximum of 0.03. Phosphate, a chemical that causes digestive problems to both human and animal, is five times higher (at 5.176) than the maximum level permissible by the WHO (1.0).
The analysis also reveals 0.498 level of Lead, a dangerous carcinogenic metal.
This water result signals grave danger —Don
A senior lecturer of Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Lagos, Dr. Chimezie Anyakora, who has conducted extensive research on water contamination across Nigeria, broke down the result of the water analysis, explaining that the lead detected in the water level should be of great concern to the people directly using the water and Lagosians in general.
Anyakora explained that lead and the high bacteria level in the water are the two main elements that should cause alarm bells to ring.
He said, “Obviously, the bacterial count (2.40 X 103 colony-forming unit per millimetre) which is at least 20 times more than the WHO limits (1.0 x 102) poses the danger of short-term diseases like typhoid, dysentery and diarrhoea. But my major concern is the lead level. There should not be any lead at all in the water.
“As you know, lead is a very carcinogenic element. If one ingests bacteria in water, they reproduce and attack the body when their number is large enough. The typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea or other diseases that it will give you in the short-term can be treated if detected in time. But the problem are those who are not feeling sick at the moment and develop long term illnesses in the long run because of the heavy metal, lead.
“Lead, like other heavy metals, accumulates in the body over time. Someone who drinks water contaminated with it like this may live a normal life without feeling sick for years. When one is supposed to be living a good life, that is when it causes kidney failure, cancer and many other ailments problems that may be too expensive to manage.
“Looking at the result of the analysis on this water sample, it is a signal of grave danger. One who drinks this kind of water continuously for two years is in grave danger.”
Anyakora said unfortunately, the epidemiology of many illnesses which plague Nigerians is not done unlike in developed countries where illnesses are traced to their roots.
Dysentery will stunt children’s growth —Paediatrician
A Professor of Paediatrics, Faculty of Clinical Services, College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, Edamisan Temiye, said children who consume the contaminated water at Ijora-Badia are likely to continue to have intestinal diseases like dysentery and diarrheoa from time to time, which may impact on their development.
He said children who have dysentery regularly do not grow well.
Temiyemi said, “Such children become stunted and smaller than their age. Each time they have dysentery, they use up a lot of energy to recover. A lot of energy is diverted to the immune system.
“The likelihood that they will have a high load of worms in their intestines is very high. These will also sap micro-nutrients, essential vitamins and elements from their bodies.
“Eventually, their immune system is put under a lot of pressure. There is no way they can achieve their optimal growth. It is also definite that it would affect their intelligence.
“Even the girl child among them are more in grave danger because they cannot grow well as their puberty is likely to be delayed. By the time they are supposed to have children, their pelvis are likely to be contracted and have problems giving birth.”
He explained that even though the issue is just about water contamination, the effect becomes a vicious cycle of poverty and diseases leading to more poverty and deaths.
Commenting on the presence of lead in the water, Temiye said the metal should be an urgent source of concern to the authorities.
“Lead is an element that prevents a children from growing optimally. They grow up to become dull mentally. In addition to that, lead also prevents the formation of blood. Meaning that such children are likely to suffer from blood shortage,” the professor said.
Danger knocking at everyone’s door?
Experts say the contamination occurring at Ijora-Badia may seem like a local problem but every resident of Lagos who uses government-supplied water must be concerned about.
As a result of the fact that the water vendors are connected to the LWC’s main, the contamination might be sucked into the larger water flow, thereby ‘poisoning’ water supplied to other parts of the state, they noted.
According to a water engineer, Mr. Olusegun Adeogun, it is improper and unhygienic to lay water pipes that feed residential apartments in drainages.
He said ideally, the distance of connection between the mains and the buildings they feed should not exceed 18 metres.
Adeogun, who runs Aqualeau Water Engineering Services, said, “Mains are usually laid in major roads, while sub and trunk mains are laid in sub-roads and streets bearing in mind the distance of flow, dimension of pipes, topography of the area and human population in such areas.
“It is expected that water flowing from mains is treated and disinfected with chlorine as it flows through the channel and appurtenances, once there is a burst along the direction of flow, it paves way for the post-chlorination that makes dirty particles or suspended particles easily flow in and contaminate the treated water, thereby exposing the end-users to water-borne diseases.
“In cases where the water pipes supplying a house are between 50 to 300 metres away from the mains, laying them without proper backfilling as protection will surely cause the pipes to burst at some point.”
Adeogun said the solution was to provide mains on all roads and sub-roads to prevent laying unnecessary lengthy pipes and also prevent untraceable damage points. He suggested that more pipe reticulations should be done by the LWC.
Water corporation promises clampdown
The Lagos State Water Corporation said even though it was true that some water vendors at Ijora-Badia are supplied water by the corporation, it was not aware of the haphazard and dangerous ways pipes were being laid in the area.
Executive Director, Operations at the LWC, Mr. Deji Johnson, explained that there are many challenges faced by the corporation which make consistent monitoring of water vendors impossible.
He said, “We have challenges with our networks. The corporation has only achieved about 25 per cent of coverage in Lagos even though by 2020 we hope to cover the whole of Lagos. This is why we allow legitimate vendors who are registered with us to supply to the people using their own pipes.
“But it is obvious now that many of them install the pipes whatever way they like when our back is turned. The first thing we will do is identify the affected area and carry out massive disconnection exercise.
“People will break the law as much as they believe that they won’t be punished. There is no excuse for such illegality. We do not condone laying pipes in drains because it is wrong and illegal. We carry out enforcement but the vendors have just learnt to take advantage of our challenges.
“It has been challenging to carry out monitoring all the time. The challenges we face which people are not aware of include the fact that many people build their houses and fences so close to the drainages that utility cannot work in their streets.”
He explained that the LWC would take steps to ensure that henceforth vendors who are punished when they put the end-users of water in the state at risk.
We’ll sanction both corporation, vendors —LSWRC
The Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission said the fact that the LWC allowed vendors to connect to their mains without proper monitoring makes it a candidate for sanctioning as well.
Executive Secretary of the commission, Mrs. Tanwa Koya, said it is the responsibility of the corporation to ensure the water vendors do the right thing.
She said, “My conclusion is that the water corporation is the culprit in this issue. The Lagos State Government has set up a mechanism to monitor and enforce such things.
“We are not just going to punish the vendors but will also sanction the water corporation as well. Our job as the regulatory commission is to enforce water quality. That includes tracing the source of the contamination right to the end.
“We have just recently issued water quality regulation that would sanction in no small way both the vendors and water corporation.”
She explained that the implementation of the framework for ensuring monitoring of water circulation in the state would start in 2015.
Koya said, “The government is concerned about this issue. In a case like this, we do not solely rely on the community to alert us us. In 2015, we will be looking at the integrity of the water the residents of Lagos are being served regardless of whether we get a feedback or not.
“When we take action on the case you have identified, our process is not just to shut down the compromised supply points but also to ensure remediation because they don’t have any other source of water.
“All the pipes going through drainages will be moved out of the gutter. This will be a multi-effort action. The difference between the approach of the corporation and ours is that they want to disconnect the people that have done the wrong thing, we want to ensure that when you disconnect the bad ones you reconnect immediately the right way so that people continue to have access to water.”
Source: The Punch