Open letter to the minister of Environment and forestry
Heed the voices of desperation, the ongoing environmental catastrophe taking place in Mandinaring have to stop immediately.
The honourable minister of environment; Mr Lamin Dibba, I write to draw your attention to ongoing environmental pollution and human suffering int Mandindaring Village as a result of sustained Sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution by the substandard industrial activities of The Sonny chemical company. You were on record at Kerr Fatou as recently as September 2019 informing the entire nation that The Sonny company was closed when in fact it was never closed. I believed you were misinformed, and you were not out to deliberately deceive the nation for such an important matter. It is somewhat ironic, the director of the National Environment Agency was not also aware that the factory is in operation. According to the Mandinaring Village Development Committee’s public relation officer; Mr Yusupha Touray, it was one Mr Lamin Samateh who issued the permit to Sonny Company to operate for another year, on the pretext that, he believes Sonny company had entered into a memorandum of understanding with villagers. I have admitted my ignorance of the dynamics of your ministry and The National Environment Agency (NEA), I found it puzzling, the minster and the director of NEA are not aware of issuing of such a vital document to one of the most controversial companies and violators of our National Environment Mangement Act (NEMA act).
I want to take this opportunity and call you and the director of NEA to act without delay and rescue the community of Mandinaring and satalite villages from their current predicament; they are suffering, the strong pungent smell of Sulphur dioxide they are inhaling on daily bases, has short and long term adverse severe health implications. Sulphur dioxide is a nonflammable, colourless gas with an overpowering pungent smell. At room temperature, Sulphur dioxide is non-flammable, colourless gas that is heavier than air. Sulphur dioxide is released mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, approximately 75-85% of industrial sources, volcanic emissions, the smelting of sulfide ores, and several other natural sources. Its sharp, pungent odour and irritating properties usually provide a warning to its presence. Most people can smell Sulphur dioxide at levels of as low as 0.3 to 1 part per million (ppm).
Inhalation is the main route of pollution to Sulphur dioxide, however, since Sulphur dioxide is used in small amount as food and wine preservatives, highly sensitive asthmatic patients can develop bronchospasm after eating foods or drinking wine preserved with Sulphur dioxide or sulphur preservatives. Prolonged Exposure to Sulphur dioxide has both short and long term health consequences especially to people with lung diseases. When Sulphur dioxide is inhaled, it readily reacts with the moisture of mucous membrane to form sulfurous acid (H2SO3), which is a potent irritant. Asthmatic patients can experience increased airway resistance with Sulphur dioxide concentration of less than 0.1 ppm during strenuous exercise. Healthy individuals, experience increase airway resistance at 5 ppm, sneezing and coughing at 10 ppm, and bronchospasm at 20 ppm. Since Sulphur dioxide is heavier than air, exposure in poorly ventilated, enclose, or low lying areas can result in asphyxiation. Direct contact with eyes can cause severe corneal damage and frostbite injury to the skin. The mucous membrane acts as a barrier to infectious agents such mycobacterium tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus, chickenpox, etc, prolonged irritations cause by Sulphur dioxide damage the mucous membrane, and makes one susceptible to array of infectious agents. At high concentration, Sulphur dioxide exposure causes severe irritation of the nose and throat, can cause life-threatening conditions due to accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema). Symptoms may include but not limited to shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest. A single exposure to high concentration causes long-lasting conditions like asthma.
What is more worrying about Sulphur dioxide pollution is that children that come in contact with the same levels of Sulphur dioxide as adults may receive a more massive dose because of their larger lung surface area:body weight ratios and increased minute volumes: weight ratios. They may also be exposed to much higher levels than adults in the same location because of their diminutive stature, and the higher levels of Sulphur dioxide found nearer to the ground (SO2 is denser than air, therefore quickly finds its way to the ground level once release in the atmosphere) and because they are slow to leave the site of exposure.
Senior medical technologist and research coordinator,
King Fahad Medical City Riyadh, Saudi Arabia