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Opinions of Thursday, 26 September 2019

Columnist: Prince Agyei Opoku

Fossil fuel, a silent killer, an unbearable canker

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Nothing is more vital to life than breathing - taking in air and expelling it from the lungs, and this process requires to take place in a more healthy environment.

This is how to safeguard the human lungs which need about 250m litres of air for survival. Sadly, walking along a busy city street, one is more likely to inhale about 20m particles in a single lungful.

Toxic air has now become the biggest environmental risk and it is causing early deaths. Poisonous air is said to be responsible for one in every nine deaths and linked to around seven million premature deaths worldwide, annually. This is far more than the number of people who die from HIV,
tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Developing countries like Ghana, Nigeria and India are the worst impacted.
Dr. Maria Neira, the Director responsible for Air Pollution at the World Health Organization (WHO) bluntly describes it as “a global public health emergency.”

In Ghana the burning of charcoal and lorry tyres, to smoke meat at slaughter slabs and the open burning of waste, normally seen in thick billowing smoke, pollute the environment, making the cities unsafe, yet people go about their activities in such dangerous environment oblivious of the consequences to their health.

Thick fossil fumes from cars and indiscriminate burning of industrial waste are all contributing to the unhealthy environmental situation in the country.

This simply should not be allowed to continue - immediate steps should be taken to stop open burning of waste, something that has been fueling environmental pollution. There should not be any delay to help protect human health and fight climate change, in the long term, to cut the annual mean concentrations of Particulate Matter (PM) of 2.5 which far exceeds the WHO recommended guidelines by as much as 31.1 micrograms per cubic.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only monitors particulate matter, no nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide or any gaseous pollutant and to make it worse it does not issue any form of air quality alerts to the public.

In an interview with an Environmental Protection Officer, Mr. Yaw Oppong Asante, he noted that, many Ghanaians still burned their refuse openly and relied on solid fuels for cooking in open fires and leaky stoves indoors and on the streets.

He said doing that was unhealthy as air pollutants from the burning of waste including plastics, emitted soot into homes, and these were known to cause heart disease, pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, and other cardiorespiratory diseases.

Mr. Kwabena Amponsah, a resident of Nkanfoa, a highly polluted area in Cape Coast, expressed concern about the poor air quality there something that has led to many of the people suffering from pulmonary tract infections.

He called for action to end activities, destroying the environment.

Ghana has well-crafted environmental laws, and all that we need doing is simply to make sure that these are enforced – the laws must bite.

The EPA should also regularly issue air quality alerts to inform the public
– help everybody - adults, children and those suffering from conditions such as asthma and heart diseases, to have better understanding of the disastrous effects of air pollution.

Dealing with air pollution head-on in Ghana cannot be deferred to tomorrow. Tightening pollution controls and enforcing already existing environmental laws should be the way forward to save thousands of lives every year.