18 Nov 2013

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An enlightenment campaign may contain the spate of deaths

In the last six months, no fewer than 30 people have been reported dead across the country as a result of poisoning from generator fumes. The reports are almost always similar: people go to bed with their generator on and the next morning they are dead. “It is a silent epidemic. Nobody hears anything, nobody feels anything. It just happens,” said Professor Olu Akinyanju, a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Advisory Panel on the Human Genetics Programme. The medical practitioner and chairman, Sickle Cell Foundation of Nigeria, has described death by generator fumes as alarming. “It is so rampant, and the challenge is how to bring it to the attention of those in authority,” he stated.

We agree with Akinyanju as reports of death through generator related accidents have indeed become a daily staple in our country. Given the epileptic power supply by the now unbundled PHCN, many have had to rely on power generating sets of different kinds with all the dire implications. In some cases, an entire family has been wiped out through inhalation of dangerous fumes from their generating sets. This is because there is hardly a home, particularly in urban areas, without such a generating set. Our country which is said to have the highest concentration of power generating sets is now littered with what is also now known as "I-better–pass-my-neighbour".

Yet despite the noise and pollution from these generators, they have become necessary nuisance in many homes. They provide “emergency” power for lights, fans, fridges, television to video games. The rising death toll through carbon monoxide poisoning can therefore be attributed to the fact that majority of Nigerians generate their own energy, but mostly without taking the necessary precautions.

The danger that is not factored in is that generator fumes can be deadly. Exhaust from the generating sets contains carbon monoxide, a dangerous, invisible, odourless and colourless gas. When inhaled, carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the tissues. The tell–tale signs on the victim are dizziness, nausea, headache, even confusion, symptoms mistakenly attributed to too much alcohol or sun.

The carbon monoxide fumes emitted by generators are fatal, often without the victims, who are mostly asleep, knowing or realising the danger. It also has long-term hazards as a possible cause of lung cancer. Experts advise people using the device “to never run a generator indoors or in any area where ventilation is limited and people or animals are present.” In effect, it is always safer to put the generator outside, and away from a window, and never in an enclosed place. Indeed, most of the deaths recorded have been as a result of unsafe generator use in badly ventilated environments. Such was the fate of a family of four – a man, his wife and two children, aged 13 and 10, recently in the sleepy village of Nkwere- Ezunzka in Oyi local government area of Anambra state. They went to bed hale and hearty. In the morning neighbours became apprehensive because their house remained locked while others were already going about their normal businesses. They were all dead before any help could get to them. They left their toyish but deadly generator close to one of the windows. The lesson is apt: never leave a generator too close to the house unless there is enough ventilation.

We feel the general public should be adequately enlightened on the danger of using generators, and how they can be safely used, mostly at homes. This should be the responsibility of the health and environment authorities at both the federal and state levels. By so doing, we will be able to save our people from painful and very cheap deaths.

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