MAIN ROUTES OF HUMAN EXPOSURES AND ABSORPTION: inhalation and ingestion of fumes and dust; dermal contact


A three-month investigation uncovers how companies recycling lead acid batteries are poisoning air, soil and water sources in Ogun and Lagos states in Nigeria leaving workers and residents with scary levels of lead in their blood

Every house within a thousand meters of these factories has something in common: darkened ceilings, windows that are shut both at day and night, black soot settling on furniture, inside the kitchens, in their water and inside their lungs.

“We hardly sleep, both day and night we are faced with smoke, noise and soil pollution,” said 41-year old, Rufus Noel, a local pastor, who lives three hundred and fifty meters away from the Recycling Plant.  “My children constantly suffer runny nose, fevers from time to time, their health is at risk,”

Rufus, a widower, has taken his youngest child who is seven, to the hospital, three times in October, 2018 when we visited. The doctors say the same thing; the child is at risk of complicated respiratory problems. Half a dozen children have died in the community within the last five years suspected of respiratory complications, said Samson Onasanya, another religious cleric

Blood tests

Following an outcry by residents, BusinessDay’s correspondent collaborated with Petra Sorge, a freelance German journalist in an investigation sup-ported by the European Centre for Journalism, to test the residents’ claims that the Recycling Plant (E) is responsible for respiratory diseases and deaths of children and livestock in Ipetoro as well as hold accountable international companies who buy lead from these factories.

Tobias Eisenhut, a German pediatrician with experience on the subject was flown into Nigeria to conduct blood tests using Lead Care II, a medical testing device manufactured by the United States Biotech Manufacturer Magellan Diagnostics, capable of immediate measurement of results without sending the blood samples to a laboratory. The Ogun state ministry of health and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) provided approvals and were duly carried along.

On October 26, at Likosi Primary Health Centre, in Ogijo, Eisenhut assisted by the Oluwaseun Akinsanya, the matron, took blood samples from 40 volunteers from the affected communities, including residents and factory workers. Six samples were taken from volunteers in a Recycling facility in Lagos and six were used as controls including an official of the ministry of environment who monitored the tests. Everyone agreed to share the results with the press but the workers pleaded for anonymity.

At above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) regards it as a reference level at which it recommends initiating public health actions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says blood lead above 10 micrograms per deciliter, is a high level of concern and classifies it as lead poisoning.

Forty-six samples exceeded the WHO threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Everyone tested who lived close to Recycling plant (E) or worked in Recycling plant (M) had high values.

“They are killing us gradually,” said Rufus upon discovery that he has 27 micrograms of lead in his blood. The WHO says that in adults, blood lead levels as little as 5 micrograms per deciliter can cause cardiovascular problems and reduces the immune system. In children and embryos, lead attacks brain and nerves and can lead to learning difficulties and even mental retardation. Each microgram costs a quarter to half IQ point.

The children come to an average of 19.8 micrograms while adults recorded an average of 21.1 micrograms. For instance, seven-year-old, Azizat Adokoya, had 21.6 micrograms and ten-year old Faruk Balogun, who often plays football near the factory had blood lead levels of 27 micrograms. Even toddlers are not spared with Kehinde and Taiwo, twins of one-year and ten months recording 19.2, and 24.4 micrograms respectively.

Lead pollution in Lagos

A blinding haze of smoke from a factory will surely not go unnoticed by the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), but lead poisoning, more insidious even if subtle, happens in Oshodi, only 18 kilometers away from their office at Alausa.

A Recycling Limited in Oshodi, along with smaller recyclers in Ojota, Agege, Ijora, Festac and Apapa engage in activities to separate lead inglots from car batteries but their operations violate safety standards.

We observed at a Recycling that workers were not wearing adequate protective gear, lead dust easily drifts into the atmosphere, and the facility is sited close to residential and business areas.

“We buy from the local surrounding areas,” Vinod Jindal, the managing director of the company told us.  “We simply ask the buyer to bring without the acid. They bring it after removing the acid.”  But our investigation showed that the company’s suppliers who are mostly Nigerian firms discharge the battery acid un-filtered into the environment. Individuals also are in the trade like some who buy used lead acid batteries from solar energy companies and sells to Recycling plant (E) and Recycling plant (M).

Soiled soil

Last year, Adogame, took soil samples around the Ipetoro as well in the premises of Recycling plant (M) and the result showed three of the four test tubes taken exceeded the permissible lead limits.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows no more than 400 milligrams per kilo near the settlement. In Ipetoro the values were 1900, 2700 and 130,000 milligrams. In Recycling plant (M) the values range between 12,000 to 140,000 mg/kg.

“The soil is totally destroyed and is unsafe for agricultural purpose,” says Adogame who accompanied us to Ipetoro community. Adogame said that what needs to be done is move the people away and carry out remediation activities on the land.

Recycling plant (E)staff working in the furnace section refused to be tested. But five others in related sections who agreed to the test but wished to remain anonymous, and who frequently complain of headaches, persis-tent cough, dizziness and even anaemia, have the following values: 21.8, 32, 38.1, 41.4, and 42.3 micrograms.


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