When Air Pollution, Global Warming and Climate Change are mentioned, we are always quick to point the finger to the notorious greenhouse gases – CO2, CH4, and their other siblings.  However, towards the end of last year, I was enlightened about another major culprit – particulates; black carbon being the ring leader. I would like to share some things I have learnt about black carbon.

Tricycle taxi rides cause smoke and fumes in traffic in Lagos, Nigeria Monday Sept. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

According to UNEP, Black Carbon (BC) is a main component of PM 2.5. Particulate matter is made up of solid and liquid particle components of various sizes (PM2.5 and PM10) which are hazardous and are suspended in air   e.g. Soot, smoke, dust, liquid droplets etc. BC has a high light absorption capacity which causes warming as a result of the alteration of planetary radiation balance.

In other words, BC absorbs/interferes with radiation. BC is one of the major drivers of air pollution in developing countries especially Nigeria. Air quality in Nigeria has gone downhill in recent years due to careless anthropogenic practices. Some of these practices include:

  • Biomass/firewood burning for household cooking
  • Use of small capacity fossil fuel electric power generator for long hours (Thanks to PHCN) and within short a distance from buildings.
  • Poorly ventilated buildings (kitchens).
  • Diesel truck activity on road traffic.
  • Large industry emissions from diesel powered engines.

W.H.O attributed total death of 79,000 to indoor air pollution from biomass smoke in Nigeria. Based on another study, indoor air pollution is more dangerous than outdoor air pollution caused by GHGs. This could be due to the size of particulates, because the smaller they are, the easier for them to penetrate into the respiratory tracts of humans thereby leading to respiratory tract disease and lung disease especially in women and children (This category of people have been found to spend most of their time indoors). The consequences of bad air quality in Nigeria apart from detrimental human health include:

  • Biodiversity: – BC is known to act as a carrier of toxic particles/compounds/substances e.g O O3 alters the competitive ability of certain plants, thereby inhibiting plant growth. As a result of this, animals like goat that feed on plants suffer ill effect and die.
  • Vegetation: – Dust coatings on leaves as well as O3 alter photosynthesis process and undermine plant growth. This has a ripple effect on food security as crop growth is affected.

Some recommendations include:

  • Use of environmentally friendly, low emission and energy efficient cooking stoves
  • Healthy policy changes for home constructions and better ventilated kitchens

I was glad when I found out about the #StopTheSoot awareness movement that has been happening in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. More of such awareness should occur in other parts of the country (especially in highly populated areas like Lagos) affected by these dangerous particulates. And here’s the good news about black carbon, it has a short life span in the atmosphere, so the earlier we tackle the issue, the better…before it leaves its long-lasting effects on humans and the environment.

#StopTheSoot.