Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt

Air pollution in Port-Harcourt has been extremely terrible, this hazard of poisoning the air in Port-Harcourt has been happening for over 8 years now. The particulate matter(PM) values, PM 2.5 (<2.5 μm) & PM 10 (<10 μm) values has been far above the required WHO standards of 5 μg/m3. The air quality monitor readings from Port-Harcourt city in Nigeria is at an average concentration of 63.1µg/m³, with US AQI of 155. The results from air quality monitoring in Port-Harcourt city are greater than Ten times (x10) the acceptable limits for human inhalation as required by WHO.

Air Quality Index for Port Harcourt

Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria
Man seen pouring crude oil directly into the fire, to increase the boilers fire (open air furnace above)

How to Protect Against Air Pollution

The best ways to survive the hazards of high levels of air pollution is by doing the following;

  1. Wear a face mask when outdoors
  2. Close your windows when indoors
  3. Put your air conditioning to only internal air circulation when indoors
  4. Use air purifiers for cleaning indoor air

Health Effects of Poor Air Quality

The are multiple effects of poor air quality which may finally lead to heart attacks and strokes. Depending on the concentration of specific air pollutants in the environment, some of the know effects are;

  • Increased deaths from heart disease, cardiovascular disease including myocardial infarction, stroke, and lung diseases[5].
  • Higher chances of Mycardial infarction (heart attack).
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Pollution particles can pass through the olfactory bulb and get directly into the brain, causing inflammation [4].

Effects of Poor Air Quality to Unborn Children

Prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution like Port-Harcourt City is currently experiencing can result in;

  • Developmental delay at age three
  • Psychological and behavioral problems later on, including symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

Sources of Air Pollution

Common air pollution sources globally are;

  • Burning of fossil fuels
  • Industrial processes fumes from chemical reactions or furnaces.
  • Agriculture activities
  • Waste treatment
  • Natural sources  – volcanic eruptions, sand/dust storms

Major Air Pollution Sources in Port-Harcourt

The major sources of air pollution in Port-Harcourt city, Nigeria are from 

  • Local refining of crude oil (i.e the bunkery business) and 
  • Gas flaring operations by Oil & Gas Companies
  • Open air furnaces

Recently the biggest contributor to air pollution has been the proliferation of local crude oil refining activities. This process of refining crude oil locally is highly inefficient and therefore produces a lot of air, water and land pollutants.

Illegal Crude Oil Refining Sites - Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria
Illegal Crude Oil Refining Sites - Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria

Major Air Pollutants from Local Crude Oil Refining

The method of locally refining the crude oil uses open fire boiler tanks, with fires are ignited by burning wood and pouring of crude oil directly. This process of burning (igniting) crude oil to create a fire for the boiler furnaces, produces smoke plume which contains pollutants like;

  • Soot (elemental carbon)
  • Wide range of condensed organic compounds, (including Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Benzo(a)pyrene)
  • Sulfates(-S04)
  • CO2
  • CO, 
  • NOX, 
  • SO2
  • Secondary pollutants (such as Ozone, O3) may also be produced by chemical reactions within the smoke plume.

Why is Port-Harcourt City is Experiencing Air Pollution

Rivers State currently houses over 87% of all local crude oil refining (illegal) sites in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta Region, majority of these sites are located south-west of Port-Harcourt City. Most of the illegal crude oil refining sites are within a distance of 23km to 54km from Port-Harcourt City.

Therefore whenever the artisans are boiling the illegally acquired crude oil using fires ignited with crude oil, and there is a South or South-West wind blowing, the air pollutants from the each boilers fire starts accumulating at 300m – 400m above sea-level, and then travels downwind towards Port-Harcourt City, thus poisoning the air of the people in Port-Harcourt city.

A total of 439 local crude oil refining locations were identified using remote-sensing and satellite imagery, 380 of them are located mainly in the South West of Rivers State, within 23km-54km, SW from Port-Harcourt City as can be seen in Map 1 and Map 2 below.

Illegal Crude Oil Refining Sites - Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria
Map 1 : Terrain Imagery, all point indicating identified locations of Local Crude Oil Refining Sites
Illegal Crude Oil Refining Sites - Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria
Map 2 : Satellite Imagery, all point indicating identified locations of Local Crude Oil Refining Sites (Click to View Interactive Map)

An Experiment : The Environmental Effects of Burning Crude Oil

The results from a controlled scientific experiment that was carried out from burns of crude oil offshore of St. Johns, Newfoundland during the Newfoundland Offshore Burn Experiment (NOBE), showed that 

  • The smoke plumes from the burns initially rose 200-400 m into the air and then continued to rise and disperse laterally downwind(i.e in the direction of wind). 
  • High particulate matter concentrations were not measured at sea level, since the smoke plume rose quickly to the upper part of the boundary layer (-300-500 m ASL)
  • The concentrations of accumulation-mode particles in the smoke were -45,000 cm-3 at 1.5 km from the fires, and they remained as high as -4,000 cm-3 after an hour or more of travel time downwind(i.e in the direction of wind). 
  • Total particle mass loadings in the plumes were over 1000 ug/m3 near the fires, but decreased to ~100-ug/m3 at 25 km downwind(i.e in the direction of wind). Note: PM 2.5 at concentration of 100 ug/m3 is 20 times above WHO standards and therefore harmful to the health.
  • For each kilogram of fuel consumed,
    • ~770 g of carbon was released in the form of CO2, 
    • ~13 g of carbon as CO, 
    • ~5 g as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 
    • ~87 gas particles with diameters <3.5 um, of which ~66 g was elemental carbon(soot) and ~7g condensed organic carbon. 
    • Also, ~3g of SO2 was released per kilogram of fuel burned. 
    • A relatively low combustion efficiency was indicated by the average molar ratio of the concentration of CO to excess CO2 of 0.017. 
    • The molar ratio of NOX to excess CO2 typically varied from 0.3 x 103 to 0.4 x 10-3, implying little fixation of atmospheric nitrogen and low concentrations of NOX.
    • For comparison, the total smoke particle production rate in the NOBE burns was about the same as that for a Nine-acre slash and burn of farming.

Another Study : The Concentration of Noxious Gases Inside and Outside Residential Apartments Across Different Settlements in Port Harcourt Metropolis, Nigeria

The results from the study (source) suggested that 

  • Concentrations of NO2 and SO2 were higher than the WHO limit, while CO, CH4, NH, and O3 were below the WHO limit. 
  • The order of concentration is CO > SO2 > NO2 > CH4 > NH4 > O3.
  • CO concentration was highest in the morning, while NO2 and SO2 concentrations were highest in the evening. 
  • In the dry season CH4, NH4, NO2, and SO2 is higher, while CO concentration is higher during the wet season. 
  • Pollutant levels should be regularly monitored to help provide exposure advisory to city dwellers on the impact of atmospheric pollution on their health.

Air Quality Monitoring for Port-Harcourt

Monitoring your air quality daily helps you make decisions on when to wear your face mask. This might the the only saving solution for you, and your children, until the Government can act to stop the air pollution caused by illegal oil refining in Rivers State.

Here are links to a few website you can visit to monitor the quality in Port-Harcourt

Air Quality Index - AQI - Air Pollution in Port-Harcourt Nigeria

Related Resources

  1. Concentration of noxious gases inside and outside residential apartments across different settlements in Port Harcourt metropolis, Nigeria
  2. Air Pollution – Britannia
  3. Explore search interest for Air Pollution, Soot, Air Quality by time, location and popularity on Google Trends – Nigeria
  4. Explore search interest for Air Pollution, Soot, Air Quality by time, location and popularity on Google Trends – Worldwide
  5. What are the WHO Air quality guidelines?
  6. Is air pollution causing us to lose our sense of smell?
  7. Air Pollution and Stroke – National Institute of Health(NIH)
  8. Air pollutants are emitted from man made and natural sources – European Environment Agency.
  9. A Model for Forecasting Air Quality Index in Port Harcourt Nigeria Using Bi-LSTM Algorithm
  10. Particle and Gas Emissions from an In Situ Burn of Crude Oil on the Ocean
  11. Illegal Artisanal Oil Refining in the Niger Delta – PIND’s Conflict Briefing: May 2022
  12. WHO Air Quality Guidelines should be used to set air pollution reduction targets in our cities
  13. Air Pollution Data Portal – The Global Health Observatory – Explore a world of health data – WHO
  14. Air Quality Database – WHO

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