By Gatonye Gathura
Seven years after Kenya banned a group of life threatening pesticides most of them are still in use, reveals a new study by the University of Nairobi.
The study shows high contamination of air and soils especially in Nairobi’s Industrial Area with residues from the pesticides lindane and endosufan banned in 2011.
Data collected at Industrial Area and Dandora in Nairobi, Kabete and Mt Kenya showed the chemicals are still being extensively used, stock piles exist or illegal manufacturing is going on.
Lindane for example while banned for agricultural use, but allowed limited medical use for head lice and scabies remains a regular component in many shampoos in the country.
This is despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring lindane a cancer causing agent in 2015 and recommending its use in humans be discontinued.
The high levels of air, soil and by extension water and food contamination with these chemicals, the study says pose serious health risk especially to people in Dandora and Industrial Area of Nairobi.
Earlier a team led by Prof Shem Wandiga of the University of Nairobi, had found residues of lindane in the breast milk of Kenya mothers as well as in the muscle tissue of various fish species across the country.
In the current follow up investigation Prof Wandiga with a team from the UoN’s Department of Chemistry reports despite their ban there is evidence the chemicals are still in use.
Lindane and endosulfan are compounds from which a wide range of pesticides are manufactured. However through the UN’s Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants the chemicals have been banned or their use restricted since 2009.
Lindane has been associated with serious effects on the liver, blood, and nervous, cardiovascular, and immune systems. The chemicals get into humans through eating or breathing contaminated food or air.
Even when used as a shampoo or lotion lindane misuse can cause serious side effects including seizures.
On the other hand the WHO shows endosulfan to cause hormonal imbalance especially in boys, increase in birth defects and autism in children. It is used as a farm pesticide as well as an acaricide for killing ticks in livestock.
Kenya’s national implementation plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants 2014-2019, captures the real health threat the country face from these chemicals.
The plan acknowledges that residues from these chemicals have been confirmed in the breast milk of local mothers, fish, eggs, and in the soils. It also acknowledges the possible illegal use of the pesticides despite the ban.
“The presence of large stocks of contaminated soil in the country is of concern and appropriate decontamination strategies need to be employed to restore the soils,” suggest document prepared by he ministry of water.
Prof Wandiga’s new study published in July in the IOSR Journal of Applied Chemistry confirms the fears that the ban may not be working or it is not been monitored effectively.
The team tested for the presence of residues of these chemicals in the air and soils in Dandora, Kabete, Nairobi’s Industrial area, Mount Kenya in 2012 -2015. Residues of all the chemicals were found in all the study sites though at different levels of concentration
Residues of lindane and endosulfan were highest in Industrial area at levels suggesting use or possible manufacture of the chemicals in the location.
Residues levels at Kabete suggested heavy agricultural use while that in Dandora indicated high dumping of chemical waste.
The study suggests while residue levels were lowest in Mt Kenya, due to its distance from the pollution epicenter in Nairobi, it is indicative of the chemical’s capacity to drift and pollute widely.
This capacity and an apparent poor management and monitoring of dangerous chemicals in the country the authors say puts the lives of millions of Kenyans in serious danger.