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Spilled Cooking Oil: Lagos, Ogun Residents At High Risk Of Food Poisoning, Cancer

Spilled Cooking Oil: Lagos, Ogun Residents At High Risk Of Food Poisoning, Cancer Spilled Cooking Oil

Many residents of Ogun State trooped to where a vegetable oil-laden tanker fell last Sunday, scooping its spilled content. In this report, FISAYO FALODI and JESUSEGUN ALAGBE write about the health implication of cooking with such contaminated oil

Mr. Badmus had just finished his lunch – a bowl of ‘eba’ with ‘egusi’ soup, flushed down his stomach with a glass of orange juice – on Monday when he realised the ‘havoc’ his wife had done to him.

The ‘havoc,’ according to him, was: “My wife cooked the soup with the vegetable oil that was spilled on the road by a tanker on Sunday. I couldn’t believe it when I learned about it. I was so angry that I felt like throwing up the food. I don’t understand why I would give her money to buy NAFDAC-approved cooking oil and she would cook with the one that was spilled on the road side in such a dirty environment.”

Badmus, a resident of Orimerunmu, Ogun State, a town along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, apart from being embittered towards his wife, told Saturday PUNCH on a visit to the area that he was seriously concerned by the health implication of eating food cooked with vegetable oil that was spilled on the road.

In the early hours of Sunday, November 1, 2015, an 18-wheeler tanker carrying hundreds of gallons of vegetable oil to Lagos fell at the Orimerunmu area of Ogun State, spilling its content on the road.

In the twinkling of an eye, many residents of the area and neighbouring towns, including Olowotedo, Asese, Ibafo, Mowe and Magboro, got wind of the information, trooped to the scene of the accident with empty jerry cans and buckets, and loaded those objects with the spilled vegetable oil.

Both the young and the old, men and women, including pregnant women and those carrying babies on their backs, were said to have thronged the scene – to partake of the proverbial manna that had fallen down from heaven.

A woman carrying a baby among those scooping the oil

Because of the unexpected ‘blessing,’ Saturday PUNCH learned that even Christians in the area who were supposed to go to church either didn’t go or went late in order to fetch as much quantity of the commodity as possible.

Badmus confessed to Saturday PUNCH that his wife was among those who fetched the oil, without his knowledge, though.
A man carrying a jerry can filled with the spilled oil. 

“Probably she thought I would be happy that we wouldn’t have to buy vegetable oil again for a very long time. I had travelled to Ibadan last week Friday for a programme and returned home on Monday morning. It was after I finished the food she gave me in the afternoon that I found two jerry cans of vegetable oil in the kitchen. I asked her where she got them from, knowing that I didn’t give her money to buy such a large quantity of oil, and she told me she fetched it from the one the tanker that fell had spilled on the road. I was mad,” he said.
Many people who scooped the oil perhaps regarded the tanker accident and the eventual spillage of its content as a blessing to them, but Badmus said it was not to him, knowing that the oil was fetched from a dirty surface.
On Tuesday when Saturday PUNCH visited the scene of the accident, it was observed that the surface where the oil was spilt was not far from a dung hill near the Orimierunmu Bus stop. The smell of the spilled oil was still pervasive as no clean-up had yet been initiated by any of the concerned government agencies.
Since the spillage occurred on the ever-busy road plied by thousands of vehicles entering Lagos State every day, there is a high possibility that dust and carbon particles from vehicle fumes must have settled on the oil before and even after people fetched it.
“Ideally, when something like that happens, the ministry of environment in the concerned state should have been there to initiate a clean-up. It’s unfortunate that some days after, nothing has been done,” an environmentalist based in Lagos, David Lawal, said. “It is a dirty environment people scooped the oil from and that should give any health- and safety-conscious individual worry.”
This is why Badmus said he was worried.
“I couldn’t imagine eating food cooked with that oil and that was why I was angry with my wife. I have asked her to dispose the oil off or give it to whoever wants it. What if I get sick from consuming the oil? My family health is more important to me than money,” he said.
Residents making money from spilled oil
Many of those who fetched the spilled oil have already started selling it to unsuspecting customers, Saturday PUNCH has learned.
A resident of Orimerunmu, who pleaded anonymity, gave one of our correspondents a location where the oil was being sold in the area, adding that some of the women were selling the oil in other markets around the area.
“Some of these women also go to Lagos to sell,” he added. “I saw the vegetable oil tanker fall that day when I was about going to church; it was just pouring out oil onto the road.”
On getting to the said location, our correspondent bought a 75cl bottle of the oil for N250 from a wary middle-aged market woman in a shop along the untarred road leading to the community.
“I’ve never seen you in this area before, oga. I hope there’s no problem?” she asked. “People who look like you don’t usually buy this type of oil. They buy the branded one.”
Despite her suspicion, since it was a money transaction, she had no option than to sell her good. That was why she had defied the cold weather on Sunday morning to fetch the oil from a dirty surface in the first place.
Some of her customers would also probably be food vendors who would be happy to pay lesser to buy the oil than what they would pay if they had gone for the branded one.
Some of them would perhaps be people who fry yam, or sweet potato, or bean cake by the roadside, whose patrons would not usually ask where they get the vegetable oil they use to fry those food items.
Consumers of spilled oil at risk of cancer –Nutritionists
People who consume oil fetched from the place where the oil tanker fell are at risk of getting cancer and other diseases, some food experts told Saturday PUNCH.
A former President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, explained the health risk associated with consuming the spilled oil, especially as it was scooped from a dirty environment.
Apart from the dirtiness of the environment, he said the fact that the oil was spilled beside the road constructed with bitumen and other metallic objects made its consumption more dangerous.
Onimawo said, “The vegetable oil was spilled in a dirty environment, which means that it must have been contaminated, and if contaminated, the contaminants will determine the effect of the consumption of such oil on human health.
“Generally, such oil should not be used at all for cooking or for any other thing meant for human consumption, but unsuspecting customers will not know that the oil was scooped from a dirty environment. It is just like using dirty water from the pond to cook. If care is not taken, it could lead to outbreak of gastro-intestinal diseases.
“Oil normally causes diseases, but if it is heated up and is used to fry something, the impact of the heat may reduce the effect of the contamination in terms of germs and bacteria.
“Heat can destroy bacteria and other germs, but not heavy metals, because bitumen and other metallic objects are components used to construct the road. So, there is likely to be some contaminations from heavy metal which is very dangerous and could be castrogenic, which makes the consumption of the oil worrisome. The heavy metal aspect is the one that is more dangerous; it can cause cancer and other deadly diseases.”
The nutritionist, however, flayed the government’s agencies for not taking appropriate measure to stop those scooping the oil from the practice.
He said, “We have government agencies responsible for such matters. We have public health workers who are supposed to ensure that when such a thing happens, they should mobilise to the location to stop the practice and educate those scooping the spilled vegetable oil on the health implications of such a practice.
“They should have also spoken to the residents in the area where the incident happened on why they should not use the scooped oil for cooking, which is to avoid contracting deadly diseases. Though the disease may not occur now, they would not know that the oil with which they cooked food was responsible for the health problem.
“The environmental health officials are supposed to seize the oil from those who scooped it and destroy the oil. They are supposed to have even carried out enlightenment campaigns on the radio over the matter to at least save hundreds from avoidable diseases.”
Likewise, the Vice-President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria (North), Mr. Samuel Yuwa, wondered why the government had yet to seize the scooped oil from those selling it to unsuspecting members of the public.
He said apart from being spilt on a dirty environment, the fact that the oil was exposed to air made it not good for consumption.
While stressing that dangerous organisms and disease-causing germs would have contaminated the oil and whoever consumes it risks avoidable health problems, Yuwa asked environmental officials and the police to do the general public a greater good by mobilising to Orimerunmu and the neighbouring communities to stop further sale of the contaminated oil.
He said, “There are public health laws governing the sale of foodstuffs. Once food is not wholesome, it is illegal to sell it. So, the health authorities should get the police to impound the scooped oil from those selling it, if they are not ready to charge them to court.
“The potential consumers are unaware of the source of this oil and it is unfair to sell it to them. Health officials and the police should move to action.”
Greed, poverty-induced habit
Oil tankers, whether carrying petrol, kerosene or cooking oil, have times without number been involved in accidents on Nigerian highways, especially on the ever-busy but dilapidated Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and when this happens, residents are always quick to rush to the scene to scoop the spilt contents of such tankers, often without minding the consequences of their action.
A Lagos-based sociologist, Mr. Toheeb Olanrewaju, attributed such behaviour to greed and poverty.
He said, “I don’t think we have data that could tell us the number of tankers carrying liquid contents like petrol or kerosene or cooking oil which ply the expressway every day and because we don’t have good roads, accidents are bound to happen. The one that occurred on Sunday would not be the first and the last one.
“But what usually baffles me is the behaviour of people to such accidents. People don’t just care and it’s not good. Many times, it seems like people are waiting for such accidents to even occur. Instead of calling the concerned government agencies, they go to the scenes of such accidents to get whatever they could. They have this ‘it’s-a-manna-from-above’ attitude.
“There have been cases of petrol spillage and people would troop there to fetch, not caring whether there could be a fire accident as a result of that. It has happened before and many people died. What they saw as blessing turned sour for them. Such accidents are not blessings. When they happen, they should call the government agency.
“It is purely greed, as well as poverty, which makes people forget about the danger involved in scooping oil from an accident scene. We need to have a re-orientation and start behaving like we should. Where people should be running away from, you see them rushing there. It’s a serious societal issue.”
Lawal said that as far as clean-up was concerned, there was not a lot that could be done again since residents had already ‘done’ the bulk of the work by scooping the oil.
He said, “Since it is cooking oil, the quantity released does not pose an immediate danger to humans or the environment. The oil will eventually dissipate and break down naturally in the water. Our main focus should be to ensure another release does not happen. The road has to be fixed and tanker drivers should be careful how they manouvre on the expressway.
“It seems the clean-up of this spill will linger for some time as the clean-up had yet to start. The area would be smelling by now and the offensive odour could affect the respiratory systems of residents and motorists in the area.”
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control said the agency would be on the lookout against the sale of unapproved vegetable oil in the market.
The agency’s public relations officer in charge of enforcement operations, Anslem Okonkwor, told Saturday PUNCH that it would mobilise its officials to the scene of the accident and move against those who could have started selling the product to unsuspecting customers.
Okonkwor also advised the public against the purchase of any vegetable oil being sold in the market but not approved by the agency.
“We will surely take an action on this,” he said.

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Spilled Cooking Oil: Lagos, Ogun Residents At High Risk Of Food Poisoning, Cancer
Kenneth Okonkwo

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