The health hazards created by oil exploration and exploitation are covert and slow in action. They are not given the deserved attention in official documents in Nigeria, even as they can be major contributors to the disease burden in oil-bearing communities. This study is an interpretation of the data reported in several published studies on crude oil spills in the Niger delta region, Nigeria.
Materials and Methods:
A manual and Internet search was conducted to extract quantitative data on the quantity of crude oil spilled; the concentrations of the pollutants in surface water, ground water, ambient air and plant and animal tissue; and the direct impact on human health and household food security.
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.