Orimerunmu Community In Ogun Chokes Under Fumes From Yoyo Recycling Plant

For residents of Orimerunmu in Ibafo, Obafemi-Owode LGA of Ogun State, clean air has become a rarity. For the past 3 years, they’ve been deprived of clean air. In the morning; they choke under the effect of air highly contaminated with carbon dust. At night, hazardous soot settles on everything in sight – residences and plants inclusive.

The black dust is generated during production of Yoyo Resources Recycling Ltd Company, a Chinese firm that uses charcoal and firewood to power a furnace filled with disused tyres to produce pyrolysis oil, the end product of waste tyre and plastic pyrolysis. The oil is widely used as industrial fuel to substitute furnace oil or industrial diesel.

According to experts, in places where authorities enforce strict environmental compliance, pyrolysis oil is extracted from waste tyres or plastic by pyrolysis plant and converts waste tyre to oil with little or no damage to the environment. The story is different in Orimerunmu where, every night, as the furnace is powered to produce the oil, bright flames illuminate the skyline, billowing dark smoke into the atmosphere. Soot generated by Yoyo Ltd’s activities is as light as air, very volatile, and easily blown around by wind, seeping through tightly shut doors and windows. Soot also coats the entire community in black dust, while palms and underfoot of residents wear a permanent black mark.

Environmental degradation caused by the company has been a concern residents of Orimerunm have lived with since 2019 when the company opened for business. Residents say they are dying by instalments, as the air they breathe constitutes hazard to everyone living there. Their fear is not misplaced. Apart air pollution, black soot has contaminated ground water, making residents go far in search of potable water.

When our correspondent visited the community, she was greeted with choking air that irritates the lungs and nostrils. By the time she returned to the office after several hours of investigation, a white towel used to clean only her face was coated in black dust. She also experienced skin irritation for days after the visit.

Meanwhile, MD of the recycling firm, Mr. Leo Li, admitted to PUNCH Healthwise that activities of his company had been impacting negatively on the host community. He, however, said no one has come forward with proof of developing medical issues on account of his company’s activities. He added that his firm made efforts to compensate residents by helping clean some soot-stained homes every weekend, while it also buys them some undisclosed items.

Concerning possible impact of Yoyo Resources Recycling’s activities on residents’ health, PUNCH HealthWise sponsored some randomly picked residents for x-ray tests, which showed there is cause for concern, as some of them already have traces of pulmonary infiltrate — a substance denser than air, such as pus, blood, or protein, which lingers within parenchyma of the lungs. Physicians say pulmonary infiltrates are associated with pneumonia and tuberculosis, and can be observed on a chest radiograph.

Residents allege Ogun State Govt was aware of the environmental degradation but had been slow to act.They claim several written petitions were not acted on, and it was only after a protest the Ministry of the Environment initiated a meeting to resolve the lingering environmental crises. When contacted, Ogun State Ministry of the Environment said it was aware, noting it reached a resolution in March whereby the company has been ordered to shut down operations within 4 months.

Thugh company owner Mr. Li said his company pays tax to Ogun State Govt in addition to certain CSR to his host community, an official document obtained by our correspondent states Yoyo Resources Recycling Ltd did not acquire appropriate documentation and certification before situating his firm in the present location.

“If Mr. Leo Li had gone through Ministry of the Environment before situating his business in Orimerunmu, it would have saved the company and community from the present situation,” the document stated. Also, Yoyo Resources Recycling Ltd “violated environmental laws by not acquiring appropriate documentation and certification before situating his firm in the present location. Workers in the facility are as well not properly equipped with personal protective equipment,” the document further disclosed.

Residents who spoke with our correspondent during the visit said they suffer respiratory distress, skin rashes and recurrent cough that have defied medical treatment. A resident, Victor Archibong, whose 70-year-old mother, Grace, has been consistently ill, showed the septuagenarian’s medical report. The report, issued by Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, dated 22 February 2020, states the elderly woman suffers seizures.

Victor said his aged mother’s condition persisted when the company moved into the area. “Any time the Chinese company carries out operations at night and releases carbon dust, my mother will have seizures, and this includes difficulty breathing and chest pain. If their action can have adverse effect on the elderly, how much more children in the community,” he asked.

Indeed, a 2017 study published online by National Library of Medicine and titled, ‘Air pollution and risk of hospitalization for epilepsy’ states: “Link between various air pollutants and hospitalization for epilepsy has come under scrutiny. We have proposed that exposure to air pollution and specifically the pervasive agricultural air pollutant and greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, may provoke susceptibility to neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Results of X-rays on 3 residents comprising 2 males and a female show pattern of emerging debilitating health conditions that require prompt medical intervention. Result of one male, aged 57, indicates “pronounced aortic arch unfolding – hypertensive heart disease;” while that of the second male and female, aged 68 and 51, respectively, indicates “minimal pulmonary infiltrates.” Until PUNCH HealthWise took residents for x-rays, they had no idea they had the conditions; they could also not ascertain whether they had the health issues before Yoyo Recycling arrived their community.

Reacting to Orimerunmu residents’ X-ray results, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Academy of Science, Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, said carbon emission can cause respiratory disease. He noted that air pollution, in general, can trigger respiratory ailments in those who previously don’t have it, and can worsen conditions of those who already suffer ailments like asthma or pneumonia by causing further lung damage.

“On the long term, depending on contents of that emission, people can become predisposed to cancer. There are many things to worry about when it comes to carbon emissions, some of which are responsible for climate change, but primarily, we should be worried about respiratory diseases, which are usually what people get when they use firewood to cook,” Dr. Odubanjo said. On whether it can lead to hypertensive heart disease, he said once an individual has lung damage, it could lead to cardiovascular disease, as the heart will have to work harder to supply blood and oxygen to the entire body.

Based on a study by the American Heart Foundation published in the journal Hypertension, short- and long-term exposure to air pollutants commonly associated with burning or combustion of fossil fuels, coal burning, vehicle exhaust, airborne dust and dirt, can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.

Chairman of the Community Development Area, Orimerunmu Community, Mr. Adetayo Johnson, fears for his life and those of other residents. He laments they have been “unduly exposed” to carcinogenic materials for too long. He says people in the community have been experiencing recurrent cough and skin rashes.

Johnson said when Yoyo Resources Recycling began operation, it usually opened the vents only at night to release smoke. “But, with time, it extended it to day time. We no longer have respite throughout the day. We can’t open our windows anymore. It’s annoying this deadly practice was allowed to last this long. We have been on this matter since 21 February 2020, after years of verbal communication didn’t yield any fruit. In January 2021, the pollution became quite unbearable. We are keeping our fingers crossed, to see what will happen.”

Johnson said during the final meeting held March this year, agreement was reached that the firm should wind down operation and relocate within 4 months, which will elapse July 2021.

Funbis Schools Intl is located few poles from Yoyo Resources. Our correspondent reliably gathered it has over 100 pupils. The children were on break during the visit, and were playing in a field. Their palms and white canvases were stained with black dust, while carbon dust was evident in the classrooms and laboratory. Head Teacher of the school, Inaya Ibilola, said every afternoon, the compound gets blanketed by cloud of black smoke that stings the eye. “White tiles and tables in our laboratory have taken on a permanent black colour,” she said.

If adults feel so much irritability, what then happens to children,” she queried. “Before pupils carry out any practical work in the lab, cleaners will have to mop and clean several times. Locking doors and windows doesn’t help in any way. If you step your foot on the tiles, you will understand what I mean. We are concerned about what we are breathing in. We know it is dangerous carbon dust.”

Mrs. Toluwalope Adelekan is the proprietor of Funbis Schools International. For quite some time, she has been suffering recurrent dry cough accompanied by black phlegm. She revealed that on days when the cough becomes very serious, she experiences urinary incontinence. She told our correspondent the cough has defied medical treatment she obtained so far, and a chest X-ray at Olabisi Onabanjo Teaching Hospital “revealed nothing.”

Adelekan nurses great fear for her pupils and prays they don’t develop any medical condition. “We have children here and they are exposed to this dangerous smoke. I wish there is a way we can barricade the smoke, but it’s in the air. If these things can settle on surfaces and can be seen and felt, then it can do extensive damage to the lungs. I also fear for lives of employees, because they are not properly kitted. Some don’t wear even nose mask,” she added.

Behind Yoyo Resources Recycling Ltd is a massive compound that houses God’s Power Ministry – Cherubim and Seraphim Church. Though the property is situated on Sunday Sodunke Street, it is only separated by a fence from the Chinese company and directly receives the impact of the black soot in large doses.

The first thing that catches your attention as you enter the premises is a white van caked in soot, The church building, a bungalow, generator house and mini structure housing a water tank have all turned black. When our correspondent approached the church’s elderly pastor, he was a bit uncooperative. The man, whose legs and white garment were stained with black dust, said dismissively, “You have seen everything with your eyes. There’s nothing for me to say again.”

A striking development within this community is yellowish hue of grasses, flowers and leaves on trees. During the visit, our correspondent noticed that in some places, leaves on banana, mango and orange trees had withered. Residents claim fruit trees have been unable to yield fruit. This was confirmed by Mrs. Adelekan, who revealed that orange trees in her school have never produced any fruit.

It was no different inside the compound where the Cherubim and Seraphim church is located. Trees and flowers have lost their lush greenery, while some withered completely. Leaves of a mango tree in the middle of the compound were black and had patches of white, powdery particles sticking to them. It had never fruited also.

Legacy Bar, located on Olubukola Close, is a business establishment struggling to sustain its patronage due to the persisting environmental issue. The manager, Biodun Adekola, said customers always complain of throat irritation and stains on clothes.

“We just changed the fabric on the snooker board from red to blue, but as you can see, it now looks old and unattractive. The red couch was refurbished two months ago, but that also is now worn-out from constant cleaning. We mop the VIP section thrice a day and sometimes in the midnight, but by morning, everywhere will have turned black. We have lost customers due to the smoke,” Adekola lamented.

When PUNCH HealthWise visited Yoyo Recycling Company, employees and security men at the red gate were more concerned about how the facility was traced. They accused a particular member of the community of pointing out the location of the company to our correspondent. In reality, the place is well tucked away from prying eyes, and with no visible signage or landmark, it can be difficult to locate. The only give-away, which our correspondent later noticed, were various sizes of vehicles fully loaded with old disused tyres, driving into the premises.

When our correspondent requested to see the owner of the company or a senior management staff, a young man who identified himself as the facility manager, volunteered to speak on behalf of the company. He admitted Yoyo Resources Recycling’s activities had made life difficult for the community, but insisted few residents were affected.

“Those complaining live far away and are not affected. It is only a church, an oil company and a plastic manufacturing plant that are affected,” said the man who refused to give his name. After a while, the facility manager received a call, after which he told our correspondent the owner of the company was willing to speak.

Walking into a vast expanse of land, our correspondent saw what looked like a giant incinerator at the far end of the compound. The workers seen emerging from the section could only be identified by their eyes, as they were covered in soot head to toe. Not far from the incinerating area were stacks of giant bags, which our correspondent learnt contained carbon dust. Twisted tiny metals extricated from burnt tyres occupied another large area. The compound was covered in black dust that kept swirling at the slightest movement.

Escorted into a makeshift apartment, our correspondent met 2 Chinese who were waiting. One of them, Mr. Leo Li, who identified himself as the MD of the company, said he had tried to address complaints of residents. He said he was deceived into believing that where he located his company was earmarked for industrial development. “This is a rented facility and I will lose millions. I have taken steps to address their complaints. I have tried, but some community members keep making things difficult,” Li explained.

Hours after leaving the community, our correspondent was contacted by Mr. Li, asking for a visit to PUNCH Nigeria Ltd, publishers of PUNCH HealthWise, to elucidate his side of the story. At exactly 1:20pm on March 31, the Chinese, accompanied by his legal adviser Anthony Iyasele; and environmental consultant Samuel Olatunji, was ushered into PUNCH premises. They were received by PUNCH HealthWise Editor and our correspondent.

Mr. Li explained that Yoyo Resources Recycling Limited Company is a waste-to-wealth enterprise that converts disused tyres into black [pyrolysis] oil. He admitted the carbon dust released into the atmosphere is dangerous, very volatile and light, and can be easily blown into the environment by air. He said he had put in place precautionary measures to address the community’s complaints. “I have installed a dust arrestor, which is like an irrigation system that wets the atmosphere, so the dust doesn’t get blown around. There is also a dust collector,” he explained.

Based on his explanations, some residents (names withheld) seem to be working against the progress of the community, as environmental consultant Olatunji said 2 troublesome residents demanded N10m each as settlement. “They stopped us from washing the compounds of those affected and kept reporting us to the authorities,” he said. Li added that Ogun State Govt had given him a timeline to vacate the community, noting however that he needs time to dismantle his machines and to also get a place that won’t stir up crises in future.

Asked if there is a way he could operate in a new location without compromising integrity of the environment, Mr. Li said, “I am going to get modern machines. None of the processes, including carbon soot, will be exposed. It will be cooled and bagged.”

Speaking with our correspondent on phone, Special Adviser to Ogun State Govt on Environment, Mr. Ola Oresanya, said an extensive investigation revealed the company contravened the state environmental laws. Oresanya said Yoyo Resources Recycling Ltd had agreed to the infractions and pleaded for time to wind down operations, based on the resolution to leave within 4 months.

“The critical part of the resolution is that the company relocate its operation within 4 months, and not to leave completely,” he clarified. “We don’t want any company to fold down or leave our state, because they are adding value and creating jobs. However, we are not going to allow that type of production. We won’t compromise health and wellbeing of our people. It was agreed they would fold up their production and put in new mitigation measures. By July, they are not expected to operate again. They are to move to another area, do a clean process and not disturb the community,” Oresanya added.

On why the company wasn’t ordered to shut down completely since its operation was inimical to its host community, Oresanya said sudden closure could lead to disaster due to the volatile nature of the place. “It can’t be shut down abruptly [if we must] avoid imminent danger to lives. Some of these industries, when they shut down, can cause greater harm than what is meant to be solved. It could lead to an explosion, because a process might be ongoing.

“However, if it’s discovered that there’s nothing that can harm people, it can be shut perpetually until the right thing is done. If we shut down, conduct investigation and discover terms can be worked out to mitigate the problem, a timeline can be worked out, which is what we have done. Relocation means they have to do a new Social Environmental Impact Assessment and appropriate mitigation plan installed before they can get final approval. Now, they will be put to task,” Oresanya assured.

Source:- Punch Ng

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