A Strange Phenomenon Invades Bamenda. Environment Authorities advise. The strange phenomenon of a hazy atmosphere that was reported in the Extreme North of Cameroon some three weeks ago is now gripping Bamenda City and its environs. Unlike what it was reported in the Extreme North of Cameroon, the intensity is relatively milder. In the North visibility was so impaired that people could hardly drive. Even flights to the Norther Region of Cameroon have been suspended.
For close to a week now without rainfall Bamenda is waking up to the realities of a strange phenomenon that is yet to be explained by environmentalists and scientists. A fact-finding visit to the Northwest Regional Delegation for Environment and Nature Protection ended only with hypotheses from the two authorities that were met. Both sources were unanimous that the phenomenon was a strange one “sending everyone back to the classroom”, Mr Fuchi said.
Mr Fuchi Emmanuel, a pedo-environmentalist and Regional Chief of Service, now acting Regional Delegate, suggested: “It looks like smog, but there are no industries around”, he said. “It could also be the result of the collapse of a meteorite from the moon”, he added.
As almost every inhabitant of the town has confessed the dust has an irritating effect on the respiratory tracts – the nose and the trachea and they experience burning eyes. In fact some people have very red eyes. It also has an uncomfortable, though not strong smell. It leaves ashy white traces wherever it lands.
“The suspicion that it is from the outer atmosphere is fortified by the fact that it is already rainy season and the possibility of dust haze is completely eliminated”, Mr Fuchi said. He further revealed that the moon has appeared twice during the day. On Friday March 19, and Saturday March 20, 2010 the moon was spotted in Bamenda, Fundong and Bafmeng at about 10 a.m. “When my child saw it he rushed to the mother and reported and she came out and confirmed”, he said.
On the same lines the outgoing Regional Delegate, Mr Fonye Francis Wadzela (appointed Technical Adviser in the PM’s Office with rank of Secretary of State) said it was likely to be ‘white snow’. He said it appears like haze made up of suspended particles. “To get an insight into the properties of this haze from mere observation will be unscientific and too premature”, he posited. He also said this type of thing happened not less than 50 years ago, but it happens in Figuil in Extreme North Cameroon which has a cement factory.
Further speaking Mr Fonye Francis told The Vanguard that it looks like they are some desert storm deposits. This fact is further buttressed by the fact that the intensity of the haze, as was reported in the North of Cameroon which very close to the Sahara desert, is reducing as it moves South. This is why it is much reduced in Bamenda and its environs.
According to Mr Fuchi, the irritating nature of the dust suggests that it is acidic. The semi-pungent smell suggests the presence of sulphuric gases in the air like sulphur dioxide and trioxide which, when dissolved in water turns into sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid is corrosive. “Eventually when it rains it is going to wash back acid water into the ground and the PH of our surface waters will be affected by the acidity”, says Mr Fuchi. “The degree of acidity of the soil will be affected, which could have a negative effect on the yields.” Mr Fonye Francis, on his part, posited that our water sources would probably be contaminated.
What attitude should people adopt?
Mr Fonye Francis suggested that now that we do not know what is in the air people should only drink water from a certified source like CAMWATER. Both Mr Fonye and Fuchi were concordant that people should cover their bodies well from the dust. They should also were thick clothing when places are very cold and light dressing when places are very hot. Mr Fuchi further suggested that people should rub their nostrils with oil like Vaseline or metholatum. Both of them also advised people to put on masks, just as was suggested by the Divisional Delegate Mrs Njinyam when contacted by CRTV Bamenda. “It may be a bit uncomfortable the first time you wear it but you will soon get used to it”, Mr Fonye said.
Could this be smog?
According to the Micrsosoft Encarta Student Edition 2009, “Smog, is a mixture of solid and liquid fog and smoke particles formed when humidity is high and the air so calm that smoke and fumes accumulate near their source. Smog reduces natural visibility and often irritates the eyes and respiratory tract.” According to common observation this is what is prevailing. But there is no industry around, so where has it come from, is the question that desperately craves and answer.
“Burning gasoline in motor vehicles is the main source of smog in most regions today. Powered by sunlight, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds react in the atmosphere to produce photochemical smog. Smog contains ozone, a form of oxygen gas made up of molecules with three oxygen atoms rather than the normal two. Ozone in the lower atmosphere is a poison -it damages vegetation, kills trees, irritates lung tissues, and attacks rubber. Environmental officials measure ozone to determine the severity of smog. When the ozone level is high, other pollutants, including carbon monoxide, are usually present at high levels as well,” states Hart, John in his document ‘Air Pollution’.
Mr Fuchi testifies that the ashy dust that settles from this haze on vehicles and walls seriously damages the paint. It is too early for us to say what effect it has on plants. But all the other effects are evident already - poor visibility, irritating nostrils and lungs and eyes, etc.
Antecedents and Damage
In 19th-century London, smog was so severe that street lights were turned on by noon because soot and smog darkened the midday sky.
By the 1950s, air pollution had begun to threaten the health of millions of people -around the world - in big cities with heavy industry and
a huge amount of automobiles.
In the presence of atmospheric moisture, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen turn into droplets of pure acid floating in smog. These airborne acids are bad for the lungs and attack anything made of limestone, marble, or metal. In cities around the world, smog acids are eroding precious artifacts, including the Parthenon temple in Athens, Greece, and the Taj Mahal in Āgra, India.
Oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide pollute places far from the points where they are released into the air. Carried by winds in the troposphere, they can reach distant regions where they descend in acid form, usually as rain or snow. Such acid precipitation can burn the leaves of plants and make lakes too acidic to support fish and other living things. Because of acidification, sensitive species such as the popular brook trout can no longer survive in many lakes and streams in the eastern United States.
Smog spoils views and makes outdoor activity unpleasant. For the very young, the very old, and people who suffer from asthma or heart disease, the effects of smog are even worse: It may cause headaches or dizziness and can cause breathing difficulties. In extreme cases, smog can lead to mass illness and death, mainly from carbon monoxide poisoning. In 1948 in the steel-mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania, intense local smog killed 19 people. In 1952 in London about 4,000 people died in one of the notorious smog events known as London Fogs; in 1962 another 700 Londoners died.
With stronger pollution controls and less reliance on coal for heat, today’s chronic smog is rarely so obviously deadly. However, under adverse weather conditions, accidental releases of toxic substances can be equally disastrous. The worst such accident occurred in 1984 in Bhopāl, India, when methyl isocyanate released from an American-owned factory during a thermal inversion caused more than 3,800 deaths.The last section of this article is adapted from Hart, John. "Air Pollution."
By Nke Valentine
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