It’s grim and Nigerians don’t like hard figures, but the statistics are what they are — four Nigerian cities: Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna and Umuahia were listed among the 20 most polluted cities in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“What we’re trying to do is to raise the awareness on the implications of the bad air that people are exposed to on a daily basis in Nigeria coming from pollution materials,” Ms. Anjola Tunde-Ojo, Financial Controller at O2 Canada, a respiratory-performance startup company told The New Diplomat while reacting to the damning WHO’s report which ranked Onitsha, a commercial city in Anambra, Southeast Nigeria as the most polluted city on earth.
In ranking the cities, WHO had based its empirical data on the amount of particulate matter present in the nature’s gift — air. And Onitsha recorded 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended levels of PM10 — suspended particles in the air less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter.
For finer particles like PM2.5 which is the smallest and most dangerous form of particulate matter, Port Harcourt, Kano and Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos, oftentimes average between 101-150, 101-150 and 51-100 micrograms per cubic meter of air respectively, according to real-time air quality data updated hourly by AirVisual Network.
Anything above 55 over a 24-hour period is usually flagged as unhealthy and above 250 is considered hazardous. Occasionally, when human activities are at their prime, coupled with the change in weather, the concentration of PM2.5 in the air do rise to over 300 micrograms in those cities.
Yet for residents in other vulnerable cities, nobody knows how toxic what they’re breathing in could be due to the absence of air pollution monitors. We’re talking of several millions who are imperiled daily in Africa’s most populous nation where government is still treating air pollution and its health concerns with kid gloves despite the stark realities.
“Currently, Nigeria has three air pollution monitors only in three cities: Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano. The air pollution monitors can only monitor the quality of air in those specific areas. The fact that there are no pollution monitors in other cities is a serious concern. People don’t even know what they’re breathing in,” says Anjola. Her eco-friendly company, 02 Canada is looking at the big picture, designing different respiratory products targeted at “providing clean and breathable air to the entire people of the world,” she said.
Described as an invisible killer, yet deadly, air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year and WHO data shows that 9 out of every 10 people breathe polluted air. More importantly, PM2.5 which is roughly 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair is the sixth highest risk factor for death around the world. The effects manifest as heart disease and stroke, emphysema, lung cancer, and respiratory infections. PM2.5 doesn’t discriminate and due to its negligible size, the odds are high that wherever you live, you’re breathing it in.
For instance, to compensate for the irregular electricity supply in Nigeria, diesel and gasoline generators have become signature products for every household, breeding acrid smoke. When you combine that with emissions from millions of old vehicles visa vis traffic gridlock, deadly particulate matter must have found a commonplace across the Nigerian breathing space.
On top of that, unregulated industry, burning waste and blanket of soot covering oil producing cities like Port Harcourt further turns the air foul.
While it may take forever to change the disturbing figures of air pollution spread and effects churned out every now and then, Anjola believes that the only thing that can be changed headlong is individual’s decision on how to improve the quality of air they breathe in.
Co-founded in 2017 by Peter Whitby and Rich Szasz, the leading manufacturer of healthy breathing solutions, 02 Canada has developed one of the most effective pollution masks in the world in collaboration with the University of Waterloo, Canada.
“We believe that life is big and we should all be able to breathe clean air. That’s why we have designed a premium pollution mask. This mask will be able to protect you from pollution particles, dust, Halogen, lead, asbestos and other PM2.5 particles,” she said.
Anjola, after visiting the Olusosun dump site — largest landfill in Africa — located in Lagos, was surprised that a large proportion of the collected wastes were buried beneath the ground, as against the usual practice of burning them, often seen in countries where waste recycling technologies have not been fully embraced. However, she was shocked following the history of contaminated underground water in the area. This has made water from boreholes undrinkable for residents living in as far as 4 kilometres from the site. She said it further laid to bare, “the several research information pointing to the fact that there’s intense pollution in this country. The issue here is that there’s a lack of awareness of the pollution. I have been coming here recently trying to raise that awareness.”
Downloading the AirVisual App enables people know the quality of air both indoor and outdoor. The App indicates when to wear a mask before stepping out. Also, to bring people up to speed on the air quality index around them, O2 Canada has developed its O2 AIR Quality App, downloadable through the App Store for IOS devices.
With a perfect seal around the face, the 02 Canada air pollution mask, ‘O2 Curve’, prevents air from going through the lungs, unless it passes through the electrostatic filter first. “Most of our competitors have disposable masks that are very difficult to breathe with because of the materials they’re made off. They also have leakages on the sides. They don’t seal very well, you will find air coming through the sides because air chooses the least resistant passage to go through,” Anjola told The New Diplomat.
According to her, the mask is quite affordable considering the intention of its purpose. “It’s to protect your health and I don’t know whether one can put a price tag on that. It’s more economical to buy the mask one-time and you continue to replace the filters on the mask rather than buying a disposable mask each time you want to protect yourself. Over the course of the year you recover the cost of buying the 02 curve unlike the disposable masks.”
In its effort to make people breathe easier, the Canadian based company has extended its reach to 16 countries including China, India, Korea, US and Canada, maintaining sales’ presence there in just over a year of its launching.
“We launched in China in March 2017. Also, our team is in India, there’s a huge market opportunity there. We’re in Nigeria to get the distributor relationship going due to its severity of pollution.”
In 2018, following the devastating wildfires in parts of California, US and British Columbia, Canada, the health innovation company showcased itself as a responsible corporate organization that is ready to advance the course of the social good by donating masks to the victims of wildfires, as well as rescue workers in areas where air quality had been badly affected.
“It’s in our culture to respond to such emergencies, donating masks to people like we have done in California and BC. We’re committed to making the world breathe life again,” Anjola said.