The Impact of Soot to Human Health: An Environmental Analysis of the Niger Delta

The Impact of Soot to Human Health: An Environmental Analysis of the Niger Delta

Author ~ Funmi Akindejoye

Air pollution constitutes the largest health risk among all environmental risks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 92% of the world’s population breathes substandard air as they live in places where air pollution exceeds safe limits. Annually, about 6.5 million deaths around the world are attributed to poor air quality inside and outside, making air pollution the world’s fourth-largest threat to human health, behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.

The major sources of harmful emissions are inefficient transportation system, power plants, oil refineries, industrial facilities, household fuel and waste burning. Other natural sources include wild fires and sand storms. Example of air pollutants include: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone (O3), particulate matter, carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The air pollution situation in Nigeria continues to be a source of major public health concern to its citizens. This is evident in WHO’s ranking of 20 most polluted cities in the world (using PM10 particulate concentration), where cities in Nigeria made up 20% of the list. While the reduction in cigarette smoking has been welcome for the useful effect against lung cancer, the toxicity from particulate matter in Nigeria may be more virulent and more devastating.

This brings to mind the poor air quality ravaging the Niger Delta region of Nigeria especially owing to the oil exploration activities that characterise this region. Gas flaring and venting by the petroleum industry is a major environmental public health issue in the Niger Delta region.

Soot associated morbidities

Several studies have been carried out to establish strong correlations between air pollutants (including PM) and increased prevalence of morbidities such as lung and skin cancers, child deformities, miscarriages, cerebrospinal meningitis, bronchitis, asthma, measles, pertussis, pulmonary tuberculosis, upper respiratory tract infection, premature deaths among others.

The size of the particulate matter determines the severity of the soot. Particulate matter (PM) is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air many of which are hazardous such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. While there are several sizes of particulate matter, PM2.5 is highly dangerous to humans because it can easily penetrate deep into the lungs and other body tissues. It measures about 2.5 micrometres in diameter which is about 30 times smaller than the average human hair, which makes it easy to penetrate.

The case of Port Harcourt city

The heavy emission of black soot containing PM2.5 is the current situation in Port Harcourt (one of the coastal cities in Nigeria). Since the fourth quarter of 2016 till date, large deposits of soot has plagued the city of Port Harcourt. This situation leaves the over 6 million residents of Port Harcourt at risk of adverse health consequences most especially children (due to their premature respiratory organs) and the elderly. Aside from the negative intricate health effect and carcinogenicity of the soot, Port Harcourt residents have continued to complain about the constant black colouration on their cars, floors, roofs, and household furniture surfaces which has resulted in frequent cleaning. Although laboratory reports have shown the soot to be a by-product of petroleum combustion, the source is not well known. In an effort to address the menace, the Ministry of Environment declared the air pollution an Emergency situation, after about 3 months of constant black soot emissions, also three companies found to be discharging high volumes of emissions, were shut down. Other actions have been taken till date such as the seizing of illegal refineries.

Solution, Mitigation and Adaption

While Nigeria possesses abundance of environmental laws, these laws are mostly unimplemented. The violation of such legislations by industries is evident in the soot epidemic discussed here. Another underlying cause of this situation is the negligence of the regulating bodies to carry out routine monitoring and ensure the enforcement of such laws, with such routine checks the problem would have been detected on time and curbed.

It is important to enforce Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a mandatory requirement at all levels of business. Also, it is recommended that businesses develop environmental management system (EMS) model as suggested by Yakubu in his paper.

Also, for government agencies it is vital to keep the public informed and updated on environmental surveillance results using traditional, electronic and social media to ensure effective environmental risk communication.

Irrespective of these actions, Port Harcourt residents continuously battle with black soot. While all concerned stakeholders tackle the soot emission, residents should adopt basic measures to reduce the harm from the soot. Such measures are as follows:

  • Surfaces should be cleaned daily to avoid the accumulation of black soot around the house
  • Windows and doors should be shut as often as possible to prevent the soot from filtering in
  • Hands should be washed regularly, before and after meals. Also, residents should have their bathes two to three times daily                                                                                                                                                                          
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Research has shown that certain foods which are rich in vitamin C, and E can help to clean the body system and counteract the effects of particulate matter pollution in the body. These foods are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory qualities, example of such food include, avocado, tomatoes, flaxseed, olive oil, white wine, spinach, and broccoli
  • Food should always be covered and avoid eating exposed food
  • Long/Protective clothing should be worn to reduce the area of the skin in contact with the soot
  • Nose mask can be worn to reduce the quantity of particulate matter inhaled
  • Gadgets, equipment’s, and vehicles not in use should be covered with protective materials.


Beyond the main objective of the government to provide primary necessities such as food, housing, transportation, employment, electricity and other basic needs of the people, air pollution mitigation should be given top priority by all levels of government in Nigeria. According Ede and Edokpa in a study; ‘’concerned stakeholders expect that mitigating air pollution in the Niger Delta of Nigeria will become more challenging in the nearest future if the present approach remains’’.



Oleru G, Ademiluyi SA. 1987. Some acute and long-term effects of exposure in welding and thermal-cutting operations in Nigeria. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 59(6):605-12.

P.N Ede, D.O. Edokpa. 2017. Satellite Determination of Particulate Load over Port Harcourt during Black Soot Incidents. Journal of Atmospheric Pollution Vol. 5, No. 2, 55-61

Six foods that safeguard against air pollution. (15, July 2017). The Britich Pollution Solution. Retrieved from:

Temitope Poopola. (April,2017). 5 ways to live healthy with the black soot pollution in Port Harcourt. Retrieved from: harcourt.html#1089333

Yakubu, O.H.. 2017. Addressing Environmental Health Problems in Ogoniland through Implementation of United Nations Environment Program Recommendations: Environmental Management Strategies. Environments. 4, 28.

Yakubu, O.H. 2017. Particle (Soot) Pollution in Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria—Double Air Pollution Burden? Understanding and Tackling Potential Environmental Public Health Impacts. Environments.


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