AT LEAST 28 persons have died of lung related ailment caused by inhalation of polluted air from Akwa Ibom State government refuse dump site located in Uyo. Among the victims included a senior nursing officer at St. Luke’s General Hospital, Uyo, Mrs. Irene Umoh whose treatment in India exposed the severity of the damage caused by the location of the dumpsite. The dumpsite located along the old Stadium Road, beside Government House, and by Barracks Road, Uyo, is said to be responsible for strange diseases and sudden death of residents of streets around the site. Apart from the stench, residents also complain of other environmental hazards like water pollution, destruction of farmlands and erosion. While many residents had fled the area for safety, others led by a brother of the deceased nurse, Mr. Anthony Umoh, staged a protest and barricaded the area to stop trucks from dumping refuse, as series of appeals to government for help were said to have fallen on deaf ears. Addressing journalists who visited the dumpsite, Umoh revealed that some of the affected residents had written several petitions, instituted court cases without commiserate response from government. According to him, the state government only responded when the protesters blocked access to the dumpsite, leaving truckloads of refuse all over the state capital. Lamenting the death of his sister, Umoh explained that doctors at Max Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, India, on examining the deceased traced her ailment to frequent inhalation of toxic substances to which she had been exposed over the years. “I took her to India and the doctors there diagnosed her of lung infection. The doctors asked us if she worked in a factory where she was constantly exposed to hazardous substances or live in a polluted environment. When we came back to Akwa Ibom State, we also went to Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo, where she finally died. “We have lost many young people here. Apart from my sister, recently we also lost a youth leader, Nsima Udotung; a couple and a number of others. As we speak, the security guard who takes care of this environment, has been severely ill. “The soil around this vicinity is contaminated as iron dumped in thee place, secretes acidic substances into soil contaminating portable water sources, plants, and vegetation. And in dry seasons, the heat the in the dump site, usually trigger flame causing thick smoke that engulf the entire area for days,” he said. Umoh regretted that while previous administrations were able to push the refuse into the ravine, the immediate past and present administrations had displayed high level of insensitivity to the plight of the people around there by littering the environment with refuse such as corpses aborted babies in polythene bags, among others dumped at the site. Another resident, Mr. Sunday Udo alleged that most of the trucks used in carrying refuse to the site belonged both to the former Commissioner for Environment and a member of the state House of Assembly. It was discovered that the
dumpsite also harbours illicit businesses as some hoodlums run what a local resident described as “the biggest drug cartel” managed by a young girl within the dumpsite. It was learnt that scavengers have also exploited the opportunity to abuse 18 under-aged children housed in a hut within the dumpsite. The Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Iniobong Essien admitted the sordid state of the environment, noting that government was also working to provide alternative dumpsite that would be far from the people along Uyo Village Road. Essien, who commiserated with the families of the deceased and others affected by the pollutants, said the state government was currently working on a design for a proper waste recycling plant that would address the problem. The commissioner regretted that the project could not be implemented immediately because of investors’ lack of interest, as it was no longer business as usual. He added that government would soon have stakeholders meeting with residents with a view to administering health intervention and proper health check on those that had been affected by explosion to dump diseases. “The community is the lowest point around Barracks Road; that is why we have come out with a design to restructure the area and make the environment conducive for the residents. “If you look at the place, you will notice that some residents can no longer drive to their homes any more. So, we need to take a very holistic look at the situation. So far, we have decided to provide alternative dump site,” Essien explained.