Death from generator fumes – Thisday

There is need for enlightenment campaign on the use of generators

A widow and her three children in the Ikorodu area of Lagos lost their lives in a rather cheap manner recently. With no power supply from the electricity company serving their area, the family turned on the generator in one of the rooms in the three-bedroom apartment and went to bed. All of them died in their sleep. They have joined the long list of thousands of people who had been lost across the country to generator fumes over the years.

As we have highlighted on this page on several occasions in the past, the fumes emitted by generators are fatal, often without the victims, who are mostly asleep, knowing or realising the danger. They also have long-term hazards as a possible cause of lung cancer. Experts therefore advise people using the device to never run a generator indoors or in any area where ventilation is limited and people or animals are present.

We understand that due to the poor supply of electricity in Nigeria, most offices, shops and homes are now being run by generators. Indeed, the state of Nigeria’s power infrastructure has created an environmental nightmare across the country. Almost every family, in what Nigerians have dubbed “face -me -I- face-you” apartment, has a small power generating set, derogatorily known as “I-better–pass my neighbour”. So bad is the situation that in some houses as many as 10 generating sets could be found within a radius of five metres.

Yes, generators provide “emergency” power for light, fans, fridges, television to video games and such like. But aside the noise and pollution they emit, there are also health costs. As most health experts have warned, fumes from these generators could be deadly. The fumes contain carbon monoxide, a dangerous invisible, odourless and colourless gas. When inhaled, carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the tissues and can easily lead to death. The tell–tale signs on the victims are dizziness, nausea, headache, even confusion, symptoms mistakenly attributed to too much alcohol or sun; or something else. That explains why the story of people who sleep at night with their generator on without waking up the next morning has now become a common tale. Besides, exposure to moderate and high levels of carbon monoxide over a long period of time has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. This could lead to a shorter life span.

What is particularly worrisome about this development is that as pervasive as it is, there is still no public awareness campaign by the relevant authorities on the dangers posed by generators.

Therefore, against the background that hardly a week passes without reports of fatalities resulting from generator fumes, users must be made aware of the necessary precautions to take.

In effect, it is always safer to put the generator outside, and away from a window, and never in an enclosed situation. Indeed, most of the deaths recorded were as a result of unsafe generator use in badly ventilated environments. We feel the general public should be adequately enlightened on the danger posed by generators, and how they can be safely used, mostly at homes. This should be the responsibility of the health and environment authorities at both the federal and state levels. By so doing, we will be able to save our people from painful but cheap deaths.

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