On a bright, sunny Tuesday, Adedoyin, a tyre vulcaniser in his 30s, sat on a wooden bench placed under a tree with his tyre inflator machine together with a friend. In front of the duo is a long stretch of gutter, which carries liquid waste to a canal far away. But unlike a large number of drains in Lagos State, this particular one was unclogged, ensuring the sewage flowed seamlessly. However, in the midst of the seamless flow, a heavy stench emits as a result of the waste. Yet, Adedoyin and his friend did not seem upset by the unpleasant smell and remained seated comfortably.
This is what residents who live nearby the Oko-Oba abattoir and Lairage Complex, situated along the Old Abeokuta road in the Agege area of Lagos, encounter on a daily basis. Built in 1992, this meat market is considered to be the largest one in the state. Several breeders converge from different parts of the country on the market where they transact business with their colleagues, as well as with customers. However, despite the rehabilitation recently carried out by the state government, the odour is what the abattoir is well renowned for aside its primary purpose, and it has also characterised large parts of Oko-Oba, leaving the hygiene of the entire area and population into serious question.
A visitor is welcomed into the abattoir with an offensive smell. It, however, amplifies when approaching the slaughterhouse proper as the stench of animal faeces whirls around the entire area, while animal blood spills all over. Further movement around the facility revealed an environment which could be best described as filthy. Our correspondents’ attempt to get to the live cow section of the market proved unsuccessful due to the impassable nature of the road. Meanwhile, around the market are numerous traders who also sell different wares, including cooked meals.
A casual staff of Unity Bank located in the abattoir, who spoke to Newsbreak on the condition of anonymity, noted that the reek had reduced on the day our correspondents visited. He insisted that the rain which fell the previous day (Monday) had acted as “perfume” and minimised what could have potentially been a much worse situation. The impact of the stench, however, transcends beyond the slaughterhouse, where many residents and employees who live and/or work around the facility dwell.
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Sharing a fence directly with the abattoir is the Millennium Estate, Oko-Oba, shining in its resplendent amber colour. But even with a place where they can call home and lay their heads, occupants of this estate, as well residents of other homes nearby, are exposed daily to what could not just be environmental risks, but also severe health hazards.
A walk to the estate from the abattoir compounds an individual’s woes around the area as such person is subjected to an eyesore of a culvert, which streams blood of animals and liquid waste from the abattoir into the gutter in front of the estate. Yet, Adedoyin, who was introduced to our correspondents as an “agent” of the estate, said the unflinching odour emitting from the drain was not a new phenomenon. According to him, it is only first-timers to the area that would be disturbed by the offensive smell, adding that such persons would get accustomed to the environment in no time.
He said: “If you go inside now (the estate), you won’t hear the odour (sic). It’s just sometimes like today that they are washing the slab at the abattoir, then you can hear the odour (sic). Maybe for a new person, yes it smells, but after a week the person will get used to it. Maybe something is smelling for a week, you are coming outside and going in, you won’t hear the odour again (sic).
“It’s just the slab where they are washing; you know they are killing cows, so from morning to afternoon they are washing the slab. Apart from cows, maybe some rams are also killed there and the water is stored for a while. So, it is just when the water is flushed out that you would hear the odour (sic). The water is coming out from the gutter and going to the canal straight.”
Another resident of the estate, who decided not to disclose his identity, corroborated Adedoyin’s experience. He claimed that he is already acclimatised to the environment’s stench, adding that it is mostly perceived outside the estate’s gate.
“I’m already used to it; but maybe by the time one starts to stay here, you will adapt to it. Although at times, it doesn’t use to smell much inside like outside here.”
When asked about how the smell subsides, he explained that residents depend on rain to flush the waste from the gutter into the canal.
He said: “We have a canal nearby, most of their rubbish are pushed are into the canal. When there is rain, it normally flushes them to the canal. Like the one that rained yesterday, you see all this place; you would know that the scent has reduced. The water is smelling but we have been here for a while, so it’s usual for us.”
A food vendor opposite the abattoir, who simply identified herself as Folashade, also stated that she is used to the stench from the abattoir, adding that she does not feel any aftereffect from the environment.
She said: “Look at you now, I’m sure you are new here today (Tuesday) and I can see the way you have been comporting yourself because of the odour. It’s because you are new in this area that is why. As it is now, the only people we pity are those that are new in Oko-Oba environs.”
Folashade added: “Once they start cleaning up the abattoir, the whole place becomes messy, even though most of us don’t fall sick,” she further stated.
For Nneka, a trader at the entrance of the abattoir, who was initially reluctant to speak, said the traders and residents no longer grumble as their complaints have yielded to nothing.
“We have complained on a regular basis and nothing has been done. Already, we are used to the stench. Now that it has started raining, it will help subside the smell by constantly washing the dirty waters of blood and faeces of the cow they kill on a daily basis,” she said.
When one of our correspondents further asked if she had fallen ill as a result of the abattoir environment, Nneka confidently said no.
But despite some of the residents claiming to be accustomed to the odour, medical experts warn that dwelling around the environs of an abattoir poses serious health hazards. Numerous scientific studies have associated humans with some diseases from abattoir areas such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, typhoid fever, foot and mouth disease, typhoid fever, and chest and respiratory diseases.
Corroborating these observations, Dr Olusina Onigbinde of Ropheka Hospital, Egbeda, explained to Newsbreak that the body system struggles to adjust to the smell, which damages some of the respiratory cells in the process and leaves the human body prone to various airborne diseases.
He said: “Environment determines health; it is a very strong determinant of health. If you live around places where they dispose waste and all other things, there are so many things that could cause health hazards. Number one, a lot of these aerosols – that’s diseases that are carried by air – would be very common. So, respiratory diseases are very common.
“Apart from that, because of chronic limitation that the health hazards create; that is smelling and a lot of dust, the cells around the membrane mucosal of the respiratory tract; that is the nose, chest and others, they struggle to adapt to that chronic condition. So, the cells begin to change. From there, cancer of the lungs or pancreas of the respiratory tract can start. So, that is one of the greatest hazards.”
He also noted that the presence of persons with specific ailments such as tuberculosis could constitute a danger to residents of such area, as they are carried in the open and could, therefore, transmit diseases via air particles.
On the impact a smelling environment could have on food bought and consumed from pungent areas, Dr Onigbinde said the items, the buyers and the potential consumer are at great risk of being infected with diseases.
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“They could be infected, of course. People who cook and eat food in such areas and even food items that are yet to be cooked could be infected. If they are not well cooked, there is a problem. Apart from that, Lassa Fever is as a result of rats infecting foodstuffs. So rats would be very common around where they dump refuse and areas that smell badly. Even malaria parasite is also a possibility because when you have such smelling areas, you have ponds, you have water retained; they are building lands for mosquito agents,” he said.
Also speaking, Dr Akeem Ayankoso of Tolu Medical Centre, Olodi Apapa, noted that air pollution and carbon monoxide poisoning are major corollaries which could affect people who reside in areas filled with an unpleasant smell.
He said: One of the consequences of residing in a stench-filled environment is air pollution. Due to the fact that we are exposed to whatever is in the air as a result of our breathing, then there is the possibility of taking in what is being circulated in the air. And if it is something that is unhealthy to the human body, then there is the danger of getting infected.
“There is the issue of carbon-monoxide poisoning. As humans, we inhale oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. But when we inhale poisonous carbon monoxide, which as a result from stench from whatever source, it tends to compete with the oxygen and affect the haemoglobin of the red blood cell.”
Seun Oyerinde, a medical doctor with Good Faith Clinic, Ikate, said there are several health implications attributed to staying around the abattoir. For instance, Oyerinde noted that the occupants are exposed to different kinds of diseases which can also lead to untimely death.
“Most of them keep saying they are used to the stench, but health-wise, it is not proper. Diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea, and typhoid is knocking on their doors, and as it is, most of them will be dying slowly without them knowing,” he said.
Oyerinde further explained that constant inhaling of unpleasant smell on a daily basis could weaken some cells in the body.
“That is part of the reasons why cases of typhoid fever keep increasing because what causes typhoid is the bacteria called Salmonella Typhi and these bacteria is everywhere, especially in unhygienic places.”
In her own assessment, Dr Bukola Fakeye, a Radiologist at the University Teaching Hospital, Shagamu, Ogun State, explained to Newsbreak that the pollution caused as a result of activities at the abattoir leads to the production of poisonous gases, which she said could be harmful to those working and living in and around the market.
“Remember that even from environmental pollution, there could likely be a production of gases, for example, ammonia, which may combine with other gases in the atmosphere to cause harm to the people,” she said.
On claims by some persons that they have become accustomed the stench from the abattoir, Dr Fakeye noted that the belief of such a notion is ignorant, insisting that the health of such individuals is depreciating in the long-term.
She said: “They have just conditioned themselves to live with the smell, they are not protected from whatever they are exposed to, and that makes it worse. They probably feel there is nothing they can do about it and are ignorant of the harm that the stench could do to them. The pollutants may even be affecting their health but because of that denial, they won’t be able to trace anything to the smell.”