Health Effects of Gas Flaring
Gas flaring is the burning off of gas, which sends a cocktail of poisons into the atmosphere. It is necessary to have an understanding of the adverse impact of chronic exposure from multiple flaring discharges on the health of people who live and work in proximity to the industry. Proximity has been defined as any distance between 0.2 to 35 km from the flare stack (Argo, 2002).
Gas flares have harmful effects on the health and livelihood of the communities in their vicinity, as they release a variety of poisonous chemicals. Some of the combustion by-products include nitrogen dioxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile or ganic compounds like benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide, as well as carcinogens like benzapyrene and dioxin. Humans exposed to such substances can suffer from variety of respiratory problems, which have been reported amongst many children in the Niger Delta. These chemicals can aggravate asthma, cause breathing difficulties and chest pain as well as chronic bronchitis (Environmental, 2005). Nigeria is said to have emitted more th an 3,438 metric tons of gas in 2002. While flaring gas in the western countries has been minimized, in Nigeria it has grown proportionately with oil production (Friends of the Earth Nigeria, 2008). The volume of associated gas produced and subsequently burnt off, is directly linked to the amount of oil produced. The World Bank reported in 2004 that, “Nigeria currently flares 75% of the gas it produces”. Between 70 and 75% is the generally accepted percentage of gas flared (Friends of the Earth Nigeria, 2008). The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has suffered from all forms of pollution and degradation arising from oil and natural gas exploitation. The impact of these include a decrease in agricultural yield, depression in flowering and fruiting in crops and palm trees, deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems, increasing concentrations of airborne pollutants, acidification of soils and rainwater, corrosion of metal roofs and significant increases in concentrations of sulphates, nitrates and dissolved solids, with associated socio-economic problems (Ologunorisa, 2001). Gas flares are often located close to local communities and regularly lack adequate fencing or protection for villagers who may risk nearing the tremendous heat of the flare in order to carry out their daily activities. Many of these communities claim that nearby flares cause acid rain which corrodes their homes and other local structures, many of which have zinc-based roofing. Some people resort to the use of asbestos-based material, which is stronger in repelling acid rain deterioration (Castleman, 2005). Unfortunately, this creates its own health hazard. Asbestos exposure increases the risk of lung cancer. This article has established that gas flaring impact negatively on lung function of children and adults (males and females) residents in gas flaring community by reducing their mean peak expiratory flow rates. The severity of impact on peak expiratory flow rate worsens with longer exposure to gas flaring and hence marked reduction in Peak Expiratory Flow Rate.