Experts Endorse Science-based Solutions to Protect Nigeria from Menace of Toxicants

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The need to tackle the negative impact of toxicants on the environment continues to be a source of concern to experts. They feel government policies, in this regard, lack scientific basis. Omolabake Fasogbon reports

In recent times, there have been consistent efforts by government, private institutions and experts to address the menace of deadly toxicants on the environment, human health and the national economy.

The Federal Government in particular has been at the fore of combating toxicological challenges that arise from nature, human made and biological sources, however, not too much satisfactory result has been realised.

Studies have shown that there are wide sources of toxicant and humans are exposed to them almost on a daily basis. Some of them include: Plastics, household cleaners, solvents, detergents, cosmetics and perfumes. Other sources are antibiotics, prescription drugs, steroids, food additives, preservatives and some edibles things, as well as pesticides.

While these sources cannot be separated from humans, environment and businesses, their presence indicates opportunities for reducing exposure to toxic chemicals through pollution prevention.

According to the President of Pure Earth, Richard Fuller, toxic pollution being an invisible killer, accounts for the largest cause of death globally.

Fuller said more than one in seven deaths in the world are pollution-related. From contaminated sites alone, toxic pollution affects the health of more than 200 million people worldwide. Overall, pollution kills three times more people than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Experts also recorded  that the overall effects of environmental toxicants could be more serious in developing countries like Nigeria as a result of factors such as: lack of or failure to enforce regulations, which allows human exposures to genotoxic agents; undernourishment of the lower economic and social classes that comprise the most exposed populations from industrial and agricultural activities and parasitic infections that afflict a wide range of populations in both urban and rural areas.

Economically, it has been reported that Nigeria loses huge amount of foreign exchange annually from its agricultural exports due to low patronage and rejection of some farm produce as a result of toxicant.

Dealing with the matter in Nigeria, members of the Nigerian Society for Toxicological Sciences , NSTS, convened in Abuja recently to fashion a way out.

The Minister of Science and Technology, who was a special guest at the three-day conference, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, acknowledged the commitment of the society in supporting government efforts to address the subject matter.

He noted that while the use of technology in pharmaceuticals, paints, tannery, chemicals and allied – related is on the upsurge, so also has the management of the wastes generated by industries become a source of concern to humans and living organisms due to the level of toxicity in the effluent wastes.

As a result of this, he said, “The ministry is pursuing a new sustainable route for the country which is to change from a resource based to a knowledge based society. Hence, we sought the collaboration of professional bodies like yours to partner with in achieving this goal.”

The society, in its resolve, harped on the essence of  scientific research and solution to check the excess of toxicants on health, environment and the economy at large.

The well-attended conference witnessed presentations of, and discussions on research findings in seven key areas, including Industrial and Agrochemical Toxicity, Oil and Gas, Solid Mineral Toxicity, Telecommunications Toxicity, Risk Assessment, Regulatory, and Tobacco Harm Reduction.

Addressing the theme of the conference, ‘Health, Environmental and Economic Impacts of Man-Made and Naturally Released Toxicants’, President of the Society and a Pharmacology and Therapeutics Lecturer at the University of Abuja, Prof Uche Alex Osunkwo, explained that NSTS has a responsibility to contribute to national development by encouraging and engendering research in relevant areas to aid important national decisions, as well as encourage informed personal actions.

He added that validating or invalidating notions is a major impact that science should be making in all areas of life, which only research could help man to achieve.

“As scientists, it is clear to us that lots of decisions at national and individual levels are based on uninformed generalisations, often pointing in the wrong direction.

“Regulators and decision makers can benefit from research findings on each of the seven sub-themes because competent scientists and researchers have undertaken careful study to produce the conclusions presented and discussed.”

Justifying the importance of scientific and research proven knowledge to key areas of human lives, Osunkwo cited examples of the evidence from the Oil and Gas Toxicity and the Tobacco Reduced Risk Products.

He said: “While Hydrocarbon is known to alter blood parameters; some of these blood parameters may affect the activities of certain systems like cardiovascular system. Hydrocarbon gets into man and animal either through ingestion of contaminated food and water, bio-concentration through food chain, occupational exposure or by using hydrocarbon products.

“Synopsis from research studies conducted across two states of the federation shows a reduction in packed cell volume in all treated groups compared to control and a significant increase in plasma sodium level in treated groups compared to control, while there was no significant alteration in plasma lipids profile of the treated groups relative to the control.

“On the issue of Tobacco Harm Reduction, whereas cigarette smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of illness and death, public health experts are beginning to notice that the campaign against smoking is gradually getting to a point of diminishing returns in some countries.

A presentation, “Non Clinical and Clinical Assessment of Tobacco Heating System (THS)” by the Manager, Translational Research Strategy at Philip Morris International, PMI, Dr. Ashraf Elamin, showed that the totality of scientific assessment, (both clinical and nonclinical), has the potential for harm reduction.

“The THS has given rise to Reduced Risk Products (RRP), because they go through ‘heat’ not ‘burn’ to produce the feel of smoking. The absence of combustion results in a decreased number of toxicants in the aerosol as compared to conventional cigarette.

“This is an area of interest to us as scientists. If there is something science can do to reduce the negative impact of smoking, our position as scientists, is that the adults who have made the choice to continue smoking ought to be enlightened on it,” he added.

Secretary General of NSTS, Dr. Anoka Njan, commented that the conference came at the time the nation was in serious need of scientific solutions to daily exposure to industrial and cosmetic chemical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, heavy metals and natural toxicants.

“This gathering will help to promote the identification of easy and practicable solutions that can enhance national development and quality of human co-existence,” he said.