The ticking time bomb of toxic inhalations

The mortality rate of the world’s population is increasing at geometric progression and it is not decreasing anytime soon. The life expectancy of some countries differs by the index of some dangerous practices which expose their citizens to early death. The exposure and mishandling of some substances generated from a range of chemical reactions that may have been induced by human activities or natural occurrences are major indicators of premature mortality. These substances may come as gases, liquids or even solids. The most commonly generated harmful substances to hamper life are gases. Gases from chimneys of industries, those from exhaust of hydrocarbon engines and even from unconventional incinerators.

Recently, the Lagos State Ministry of Education, through one of her education districts, organised a day program to commemorate the roles of subject teachers in impacting knowledge. Education District VI, tagged it “Subjects Association Day”, and one of the discussants that day, referred to some salient points that this article will dwell on. It was robust enough to initiate a discussion that would save lives and probably in future improve the life expectancy index. The Chemistry Teachers Association of Nigeria (CHETAN) mentioned, through her representatives, the danger of incomplete combustion in engines that run on fossil fuels. That hydrocarbon, which is the chief source of fuels in Nigeria, may generate high levels of poisonous gases and may also lead to ailments that could claim lives.

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As it is commonly seen in most rural homes, electricity generating sets (generators) are poorly placed for ventilation and appropriate exchange of air: the engine of the generator mixes air with fuel to generate carbon(IV)oxide and water. This is only so when the combustion is complete, however in the case of incomplete combustion, Carbon (II) oxide is generated and may pose health hazards. Carbon (II) oxide is dangerous because when inhaled, it combines with the blood (haemoglobin) to form carboxyhemoglobin, a more complicated form of blood as against oxyhaemoglobin which is the oxygen-carrying blood. This can lead to a depleted amount of oxygen needed by the body cells to function adequately.

Generators are not the only source of this carbon (II) oxide. Other engines like steam, two stroke and even four stroke engines with low supply of air would pollute the atmosphere. The operational procedures of these engines permit the inflow of air and then the outflow of gases. The combustion process will suggest the type of gases evolved – whether Carbon (II) oxide or Carbon (IV) oxide or even both. Some research works claim the instability of Carbon (II) oxide in the atmosphere thus leading to Carbon (IV) oxide having been combined with oxygen. However, both gases are not best inhaled in human respiratory organs. High concentration of Carbon (II) oxide can lead to mortality while low intake may take a longer time before death can occur.

The permissible level of intake of Carbon (II) oxide should be lower than nine ppm (parts per million) in every eight hour. The United States occupational health and safety limit for healthy workers is 50ppm (parts per million). Nigeria may not have as high a figure as other industrialised nations, but urban cities like Lagos, may share close to that value due to high density of population. The level of exposure, the concentration of the gas inhaled, and the age of the person exposed are some of the parameters that determine the danger-level. Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) of most countries prohibit indiscriminate acts that can increase the levels of Carbon or its compounds in the atmosphere.

Carbon footprints predict and monitor the level of human activities that are liable to pollute the spheres of living creatures as a result of specific doses of carbon generated by man. Bush burning, tree felling, unmethodical waste disposals, unselective sewage disposals, uncertified vehicles with high emissions and unethical industrialisation are parts of the many ways by which carbon compounds are introduced into the atmosphere. Some wastes are better disposed of with critical discretion to avoid long term harm. Burning wastes indiscriminately as done by many lay persons is never the best way to dispose of wastes. Gases generated from this act are by-products of the major components of these objects. Take lithium batteries for example, they contain lithium that are harmful when exposed to high temperature and this will be emitted during burning as compounds of oxygen.

A singular attitude of recklessness will not only pose threats to just the perpetrator but also to other innocent neighbours of that space. Illnesses similar to flu, showing symptoms like dizziness, body weakness, nausea and vomiting precede severe states of coma and eventually lead to death if not properly and timely handled. Carbon (II) oxide is inimical, as a high dose in the human system causes complications, this can be controlled since human activities generate a large percentage of it.

Another harmful gas generated domestically is from a mixture of most commonly home-made liquid soap solutions and hypochlorite solution from those common disinfectants. Mixing these two liquids won’t improve the efficiency or the outcome of our cleaning. Rather, it provokes unhealthy chemical reactions which may obstruct the intake of oxygen into the lungs and may as well deplete the lining of the lungs as it is most commonly found among chlorine gas inhalation which is a chief product of this unethical practice. Indiscriminate handling of chemicals should be restricted.

Appropriate training should come before handling some chemicals unlike it is found on the shelves of some of our major markets. Some sharp practices to make life balance shouldn’t expose us to health issues. It will be fair to sensitise our people of some illicit methods of preparing chemical solutions without prior knowledge of the exercise. Chemical regulatory bodies should brace up to take the bull by the horn and enforce stringent measures on unethical handling of chemicals. The campaign is not to deprive people from making ends meet, but to save more lives from our source of livelihood.

Fashakin, a seasoned educator writes via

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