Health alert EPA warns of increase in respiratory cases in Africa

According to the EPA, the major sources of ambient air pollution included vehicular exhaust emissions—the largest emitters being older vehicles

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning residents of Accra of an increase in cases of respiratory diseases and cancers if people do not stop the indiscriminate burning of refuse in open spaces.

The ambient air quality within the city is increasingly being polluted due to refuse burning, emissions from vehicles and bush burning, the Executive Director of the agency, Mr Daniel S. Amlalo, told the Daily Graphic on the sidelines of the inception meeting on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) in Accra on Tuesday.

“The air quality situation in Ghana can be described as critical. We have hot spots where we have large amounts of pollutants. We have them in landfill sites where we do a lot of burning, places where we burn e-waste. We also have problems with over-aged vehicles.

The EPA’s identified hotspots include Agbogbloshie and the landfill sites at Abokobi, Tema, the country’s highways and tollbooths.

What are short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs)?

SLCPs are agents that have relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere - a few days to a few decades - and a warming influence on the climate.

The main short-lived climate pollutants include black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone, which are the most important contributors to the human enhancement of the global greenhouse effect after carbon dioxide.

These short-lived climate pollutants are also dangerous air pollutants, with various detrimental impacts on human health, agriculture and ecosystems. The challenges arising through the short-lived climate pollutants are dealt with by an initiative known as the Supporting National Planning for action on SLCPs (SNAP).

Mitigation measures to reduce SLCPs are led by the Climate and Air Coalition, which among others at the Accra meeting, sought to highlight the importance of pursuing a comprehensive solution to issues related to air quality, global warming and health.

Air pollution in Ghana

According to the EPA, the major sources of ambient air pollution included vehicular exhaust emissions—the largest emitters being older vehicles, emissions from industrial sources, domestic waste, healthcare waste, road and windblown dust, mercury fumes from artisanal/small-scale gold mining.

“We also have problems with fuel that we use with high levels of contaminants in some places because we are importing fuel from different countries so depending on the source of the fuel, we put out high levels of pollutants,” the EPA boss said.

“It means when toxic substances are released into the environment and then are inhaled into the lung, they become sources of respiratory diseases.

“People who sell or live close to heavy traffic areas are at some risk. They live or work there for more than eight hours, all those pollutants are deposited in their lungs and create health problems,” he said.

To deal with problems of emission from vehicles, he said the EPA was developing a national emission standard to regulate emission of toxic gases including carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The programme seeks to ensure that all motor vehicles and motorised equipment in the country and those imported are less pollutant or fall within acceptable emission standards.

Death from air pollution

In Ghana, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, about 6,500 people die prematurely every year from indoor air pollution alone.

The worrying fatalities, according to the Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Ms Martina Otto, called for serious measures to address the challenges of SLCPs.

She rallied all stakeholders to work hand in hand to find lasting solutions.

 “The good news is that there are measures that allow us to address both, air quality and climate. And in many cases they involve proven and cost-effective technologies, and come with other socio-economic benefits,” she said.

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