By Muhyideen Jimoh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
At Dei-Dei abattoir, located on the outskirts of Abuja, a thick smoke is billowing continuously. Idris and other sweating young men work energetically, hauling large chunks of hide skinned from slaughtered cows into the smearing fire fuelled with tyres and plastics.
Under the heat from the sun and fire, they are assisted by Aisha and a group of women whose dresses have turned black from regularly working in the smoke.
Aisha and her team are washing the chunks of hide in equally blackened water and getting them ready for the market as vans take turns to load their portions.
As the fires go down, more tyres and plastics are hauled to further fuel the inferno as the butchers work to meet the large demand in the ever-increasing ponmo market.
Cooked cow hide, otherwise known as ponmo in Nigeria is a favourite meat enjoyed by millions of Nigerians. Many migrants to Nigeria have also fallen in love with it.
It is considered a taboo in some parts of the country to have a proper meal without a slice of ponmo.
However, researches have shown that ponmo may turn out to be poisonous if it is processed by burning with tyres or plastics-generated fire as is the practice in many abattoirs across Nigeria.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2012) revealed that “tyre derived fuel” (TDF) contained several heavy metals such as lead (Pd), zinc (Zn), and Copper (Cu) that could be carcinogenic when exposed to consumers over a long period.
The Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN) also warned against consumption of such meat, stressing that it could contain cancer-causing chemicals from the burnt tyres.
“The more we eat those meats roasted with tyres, the more we are prone to health risks.
“There are alternatives and healthy ways of de-skinning meat rather than using tyres. Burning tyres contaminates the meat, degrades the environment and pollutes the atmosphere,” Dr Fadipe Oladotun, an official of VCN told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
This writer’s visit to major abattoirs in Abuja, which include: the Karu, Dei-dei, Kubwa and Gwagwalada abattoirs, showed that in spite of the health risks associated tyres and plastics-processed ponmo it remains is a common practice.
At Karu abattoir, tucked in the outskirts of Abuja, the unavoidable welcome by the stench of filthy environment occasioned by years of burnt tyres and plastics.
The pollution is palpable even to the most skeptic of environmental contamination.
Isa Adamu said he has been involved in the business of roasting slaughtered animals with tyres for no fewer than five years.
According to him, they burn scrap tyres to roast the meat because he tyres are cheaper sources of fuel, though they are not entirely ignorant of environment and health implications.
“We use these tyres for the meat because it burns sharp sharp and the used tyres are cheap to get around, so it makes our work easier,” he said.
Adamu said he was aware of the environmental hazard of this practice, but claimed he was not aware it could contaminate the meat and be carcinogenic.
The NAN investigation also shows this is the practice is rampant in Abuja, due to weak effort by the authorities to address it.
A Professor of Environmental Science at Addis Ababa University (AAU), Seyoum Leta, who said the practice also obtains in some African countries, stressed the need to stop this harmful practice.
He said doing so would not only safe potential cancer cases but also reduce emission of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from those abattoirs.
“Burning scrap tyres will have not only health effects it will also largely contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and hence climate change with its implications for climate change.
“This practice releases what we call SOx, NOx, VOC and PM which are precursors of GHGs. Burning this resources is also a waste of resources as this can be recyleable material,” he said.
Leta told NAN that a number of alternatives can be explored by Nigeria, such as biomass based briquettes which are eco-friendly.
“Biomass-based briquettes are generally considered green technology compared to petroleum-based fuel such as tyres, so this is a good alternative in this regard,” he said.
The don advised Nigerians to embrace recycling of scrap tyres into beautiful furniture, shoes, mats and tiles.
Katharina Elleke, Project Designer, FlipFlopi Project Foundation, an East Africa-based NGO that built a sailing boat from recycled plastics in Kenya emphasised the need for Nigerians to embrace recycling plastics and tyres.
“We are East Africa’s circular economy movement that built the world’s first 100% recycled plastic sailing dhow.
“We use heritage boat building and waste-plastic innovation to create public engagement and drive policy action to ban all single use plastics and ensure all other plastics are part of a circular economy,” she said.
Elleke said African countries, including Nigeria, can tackle plastic pollution, through an effective plastic recycling system and keying into the circular economy model.
The Managing Director, FREEE Recycle Limited, Ifedolapo Runsewe said with Nigeria generating over three million scrap tyres annually, a lot more needs to be done to tackle the environmental/health challenge they pose.
She said that recycling of such tyres would go a long way in reducing environmental pollution and boosting Nigeria’s economy.
Sustainable environment stakeholders say all hands must be on deck in creating awareness and right investment in tyre recycling, while stepping up sensitisation and sanctions against burning of tyres.
They say this will engender good health and economic wellbeing of Nigerians. (NANFeatures)
** If used please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria