RISING DEATHS FROM GENERATING FUMES

BY: ABUBAKAR JIMOH

The accelerating cases of death and diseases through generator related accidents have become a daily phenomenon in Nigeria in the last few months.

Given the irregular or outright failure in power supply in the country by the regulator, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), many have optioned for the alternative means of power supply using generating sets of different kinds with horrible and life-threatening implications. In several occasions, an entire family has been wiped out as a result of the inhaling of dangerous fumes from their generating set. In fact, almost every home in urban areas is identified with a generating set.

Also, the death arising from dangerous fumes is not only found in homes as the National Toxicology Program (NTP), United States, has confirmed that exposure to generating fumes is widespread in the modern world. While exhaust from generating sets brings a complex mixture of soot and gases to roadways, cities, farms, and other places exposing individuals to health related problems such as cancer, lung (respiratory) and heart diseases.

Among the cases of death from fume poising in Nigeria is that of the awful incident of July, 2012 when nine members of the same family died mysteriously in their home in Imo state. Just three weeks after, the death of another family of seven at Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi state was broken to the nation.

Of course, Nigerians would not forget that a few days following the Uburu’s case, Urum in Awka North local government area of Anambra state was thrown into confusion with the death of four persons in their rooms as a result of suspected fumes from a generating set. Subsequently, another family of four comprising a man, his wife and two children was completely wiped out by generating fume at village of Nkwere- Ezunzka in Oyi local government area of Anambra state.

Moreover, Nigeria is not alone in this tragedy. For instance, in October 2006 in the New York, as many struggled to get by without power on the East Coast following Hurricane Sandy, no fewer than nine deaths were recorded from some who turned to portable generators to provide basic electricity to their homes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that the misuse of the portable power sources has killed at least five people and sickened dozens more after Hurricane Katrina in October, 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the above five deaths were among 51 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning reported in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama after the hurricane.

In effort to avoid the needless deaths and other health implications from generating fumes, the Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) in collaboration with National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) under the leadership of the Director General, Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi have proffered some useful recommendations deducted from the views of both national and foreign safety experts.

Following these recommendations, individuals are advised to never use a generator indoors or in an attached garage. Only operate a generator outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry area, away from air intakes to the home. It is an internal combustion engine that exhausts a deadly gas called carbon monoxide.

It is important to stress the fact that there is need for effective sensitization campaign in part of the environmental and health ministries at both federal and state levels to enlighten the general public on the danger surrounding the use of generators, and how they can be safely used.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has noted that connecting a generator directly to your household wiring can be deadly. A generator that is directly connected to your home’s wiring can back-feed into the power lines connected to your home. The correct way to use a generator is to connect a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated power cord to the generator. Then, appliances can be connected to the power cord, and ensure that the outdoor-rated power cord has a sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load.

Besides, if you wish to hard-wire a generator to your home, it should be installed by a licensed or experienced electrician with an approved cut-off switch that will automatically disconnect the home from the power grid when the generator is being used.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of generators at least 20 feet away from homes, since there is no enough ventilation within garages and basements or near open windows to prevent fatal poisoning. Installations of battery-powered alarms are also necessary to warn residents before carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels.

The U.S. Fire Administration and Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety has revealed that all generators have a power rating, and they should be used only when necessary to power a limited number of appliances or equipment.  Also, the total wattage used by the appliances should be less than the output rating of the generator. Overloading the generator can result to fire outbreaks in the power cord.

While Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) strongly advise that you read the owner’s manual before operating your generator. If you have lost the manual, contact the manufacturer for another copy or download it from a manufacturer’s Web site. Keep the owner’s manual with the generator in a safe environment to keep it dry.

They counsel on proper training and regular practice will help to mitigate the harm caused by generating sets. This can be achieved by strictly adhere to all manufacturer provided guidelines and preventative maintenance schedule. Ensure that you thoroughly read and follow these instructions when operating your generator.

Sickness and dizziness or light-headed have been discovered as parts of symptoms an individual may encounter when using a generator; it is essential to get fresh air instantly in any of these situations. Effective effort should be made to reduce electrocution risks by using your generator in a dry area, and keep it under a canopy-like structure.

Apart from the above, YADI and NEMA encourage individual including industries try as much as possible to avoid fire hazards when operating their generating sets by storing their generator’s fuel outdoors in an approved container, and keep it away from the generator. It has been reported in several occasions that individuals do neglect basic precautions while operating their generating sets like refueling their generator while it is running. Never forget to shut off the generator before refueling it to avoid needless danger of fire explosions.

Do not store gasoline in a garage if there is a water heater or other fuel-burning appliance in the garage. It has been revealed by safety experts that vapor from gasoline is heavier than air and can travel invisible along the floor, and it could be ignited by a pilot light or other source of flame, like an electric spark.

Always keep a fire extinguisher close by when using your generator, and keep wreckages away from a hot generator. Remember to extinguish all flames or cigarettes when handling fuel or the generator, and turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.

Workers who engage in risky occupations such as truck drivers, material handling machine operators and those working in bridges and tunnels, loading docks, maintenance garages, mines or railroads are noted to be more vulnerable to the health hazards of generator or engine fumes.

For instance, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have revealed that lung cancer is the major cancer linked to generator fumes. According to them, men with the heaviest and most prolonged exposures, such as railroad workers, heavy equipment operators, miners, and truck drivers have higher lung cancer death rates than unexposed workers.

Other studies of workers exposed to generator or engine fumes have also shown significant increases in risk of lung cancer. For example, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has confirmed that fumes from generators and engines are the potential occupational carcinogen forming a major part of outdoor air pollution.

The Institute believes fumes contribute to other health problems, such as eye irritation, headache, asthma and other lung diseases, heart disease, and immune system damage. In addition, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substances in the environment has discovered that exhausts are likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Employers and the employees must embrace personal protective equipment, such as respirators as a key part of a workplace protective program. Workers who are exposed to fumes at work are encouraged to discuss with their employers on your adequate protection. Also, hygienic work practices, such as changing clothes after work, washing hands regularly, and keeping food out of the work area, may be helpful.

Furthermore, individuals who are exposed to fumes in their environment must avoid spending time near large sources of fumes, such as near trucks and buses. The Environmental Protection Agencies at all levels must formulate and properly implement comprehensive regulations on respiratory protection for the general public.

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