The fumes of death – Thisday

There is need for enlightenment campaign on the use of generators

A family of six lost their lives in a rather cheap manner recently in Igboetche, Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State. The family had decided to keep the generator in the bathroom as they were retiring to bed because of rampant theft of generators in the area. 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 electricity supply in Nigeria, most offices, shops and homes are now being run by generators. The present administration, despite all the boast, is yet to impact positively on the power sector. There is hardly any family, particularly in the urban areas, which does not depend on power generators. So bad is the situation that in some areas as many as 10 generating sets could be found within a radius of five metres.

To be sure, generators provide 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 and colourless gas. When inhaled, carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the tissues and can easily lead to death. The 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 generators on without waking up the next morning has now become rampant. Besides, exposure to moderate and high levels of carbon monoxide over a long period of time has been linked to 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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