Health Concerns in Nakuru County over Asbestos Materials

A whole generation could be at risk of contracting mesothelioma and other forms of cancer if the issue of asbestos exposure in Nakuru is not handled properly.

Many public health facilities including the Nakuru Provincial General Hospital (PGH) and several schools have asbestos roofs which over the years have weathered dangerous. This weathering has made the roofs susceptible to releasing fibres which when breathed in or ingested are dangerous to human health.

Given the increasing cases of cancer in the country, there have been calls for the government to create more awareness and put all possible measures in place to deal with the problem.

Mr. James Mwaura, a resident of Kabachia estate in Nakuru town says he lives in an asbestos roofed house. He maintains that there is a conspiracy of silence among the authorities on matters of exposure to the dangers of asbestos.

“Asbestos waste is littered all over town and no one does a follow up. Am yet to hear of any government effort aimed at ensuring safe disposal or training residents on the risks that come with asbestos exposure,” says Mwaura.

However, Mr. Muriithi Kiogora, the Nakuru County Director for Environment, Natural Resources and Energy disagrees and says information is available.

“There are laws, policies, plans and guidelines that govern the issue of asbestos. Unfortunately, people are not willing to go the extra mile in seeking information about issues that affect them,” he says.

According to him, the information about asbestos is readily available for any interested person both in his office and at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

A visit to Kivumbini Estate in Nakuru revealed that the population is completely ignorant of the risks that come with exposure to Asbestos. Ms. Mary Kerubo who is a resident there lives in a house whose asbestos roof is heavily weathered and partially damaged. Her makeshift kitchen outside her house is made from asbestos pieces she says she was given by her friend who has changed to iron roofing.

“I called a fundi who came and used the pieces to make the kitchen structure for me,” says Kerubo.

This brings to light the other risk which many workmen who handle asbestos are ignorant about. Health experts say special precautions are recommended when working with asbestos whether it’s drilling into them, sawing or just handling.

Many carpenters are unaware the hands should be gloved; nose masks used and special protective gear used. The clothing used while handling asbestos should not be taken indoors.

The damaged roof is a constant source of danger to residents since it keeps emitting the killer fibres. Additionally, the fungus on her roof is an added danger which causes many respiratory infections which all put her health and productivity in danger.

Apart from Kabachia and Kivumbini, this problem affects Flamingo, Kimathi and Kaloleni Estates, which also have asbestos roofed houses.

Some schools built before the 1980s also have asbestos roofing. One such schools is St. Joseph, St. Xavier, Menengai Secondary, and many others dotting Nakuru County.

Authorities at the Nakuru Polytechnic say they know the risks related to the asbestos roofing and had even embarked on a systematic replacement. What they say they do not know are the correct procedures for handling the asbestos waste and how the workmen should approach the task. Some of the asbestos waste has been used in fencing the institution.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Fact sheet N°343 of July 2014, all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos causes cancer of the lung, larynx and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings).

Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.

The fact sheet adds that more than 107, 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from exposure at work. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the homes.

Research has also shown that co-exposure to tobacco smoke and asbestos fibres substantially increases the risk of lung cancer – and the heavier the smoking, the greater the risk. 

Way forward

With such risks facing people every day, it’s the hope of many people that both the Nakuru County and National governments will take urgent steps to remedy the situation.

“The government doesn’t have to do everything. Let them enlighten the communities and then those who are able can gradually start changing the roofs observing the right procedures,” says Mr. Kio Kinuthia.

This article was first published on 12th January 2016 on the Kisumu Media Hub

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