An average of 240,000 barrels of crude oil are spilled in the Niger delta every year, mainly due to unknown causes (31.85%), third party activity (20.74%), and mechanical failure (17.04%). The spills contaminated the surface water, ground water, ambient air, and crops with hydrocarbons, including known carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and benxo (a) pyrene, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and trace metals that were further bioaccumulated in some food crops. The oil spills could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and were capable of reducing the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%. These could result in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition. Animal studies indicate that contact with Nigerian crude oil could be hemotoxic and hepatotoxic, and could cause infertility and cancer.
The oil spills in the Niger delta region have acute and long-term effects on human health. Material relief and immediate and long-term medical care are recommended, irrespective of the cause of the spill, to ensure that the potential health effects of exposures to the spills are properly addressed.