INDOOR AIR POLLUTION – THE CANCER FACTOR

Kenyans want to forget the July 2019 cancer robbery in haste.  First, it was Bob Collymore, Second, Hon. Ken Okoth and Finally, Hon. Joyce Laboso. Before the July deaths, Kenyans remember the cancer deaths of Prof. Wangari Maathai, Nicholas Biwott, Grace Kipchoim, Francis Nyenze, Francis Nzoka, Calestous Juma, Nderitu Gachagua, David Mwiraria, and many other great Kenyans across all societal levels.

According to the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI- K), the Country is losing over 90 people to cancer every day or 2,700 per month and approximately 32,000 people annually. The country has only 32 oncologists with only Kenyatta National Hospital with a degree of capacity to handle Radiotherapy and chemotherapy cases. A pathetic situation.

In our usual knee jerk reaction, leaders have risen to offer solutions to the scourge. First, that government should declaration of cancer a national disaster.  Secondly, the government should develop cancer centers. Thirdly, the government should upgrade top hospitals. The list is endless. However, the conversation should shift to the causes of the disease and measures that will reduce the incidences of attack and ensure its early detection and elimination.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. Why would this happen? The main causes are human genetic, ionizing radiation, some pathogens, and exposure to toxic compounds. The quality of the food we eat, the water we drink or use, the air we breathe is a critical factor in the fight against cancer.  Depending on the angle of attack, the disease may be one out of the 200 plus types of cancer.

Air pollution is a source of stroke and heart attacks, cancer of the esophagus, and lung cancer. This occurs as a result of harmful contaminants in the air such as gases and particles. Indoor air pollution accounts for over 80% of deaths while outdoor air pollution accounts for 20%. It is, therefore, prudent to address the causes of indoor air pollution.

It is true, that we spend 90% of our time indoors. We are either in the office, in a hotel, in school or at home.  The facilities in these developments determine the quality of our health. Most of us suffer “sick building syndrome” as a result of the following commissions: –

The source of energy in many homes is wood using the three stone or charcoal jiko. To warm the home, a wood fireplace may be used. All these facilities share one thing, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other lethal contaminants.

Other sources of indoor air pollution include wooden furniture and floor tiles made with glue that contains formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Roof and wall paints that may contain lead and asbestos that is also carcinogenic plus a myriad of volatile organic compounds that are released from perfume, household cleaners, carpets, a paper that smell of new car seats, and cement. Lastly, Smoking is a direct risk to life.

Property developers should Borrow a leaf from the Constitution and contact serious public consultation during the planning and implementation of any development. Moreover, all developments should enlist the services of a licensed environment Expert.

This year, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has noticeably improved on inspection and issuance of Effluent Discharge Licenses (EDL). However, even as we continue cremating our loved ones, it’s not clear that the facilities in Langata and Kariokor are inspected to ensure that the ultimate gases released to the environment are safe. Moreover, the same gusto is not applied to riverbeds to guarantee that farming going on does not lead to sickness and deaths. Surely, it’s not hard to undertake Environment Audits envisaged in our Constitution, and in EMCA, Cap 385 are implemented, and adverse effects on people’s lives mitigated against. 

Finally, the matter of pollution and the consequences on people’s lives require substantial government investment in human and financial capital. The recent budgetary allocation to NEMA and to the National Cancer Institute of Kenya is a clear testament that the population of Kenyans in India will continue to increase. This discussion should shift to both houses of Parliament. We need to see seriousness this time as we are all threatened.

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