The fact that there is a Fuel Scarcity in Nigeria is no longer news. It has endured from one administration to another. While I would like to believe that we will soon be rid of the queues, their persistence weakens hope everyday.
Beyond losing man-hours to spending long periods of time in these unending queues, there are other costs that we do not see.
Our health as a nation suffers every time there is a queue. Every. Time.
You see, Crude oil and petroleum products contain really dangerous compounds that are referred to as BTEX. This abbreviation stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene.
Benzene is a KNOWN Type A Carcinogen which means that some level of exposure to it will pre-dispose an individual to Cancer. The “TEX” part is also pretty toxic and comes with health implications as well.
With the Fuel scarcity, we are not only spending longer at Fuel stations (and prolonging our exposure), we are also transporting fuel in our cars, for storage at home, and being exposed even more to its vapors. This is largely due to the fact that we use jerry cans that are ordinarily not suited for the storage of fuel.
The jerry cans that we use for storage are usually not air tight and a lot of vaporization occurs which means that they are present in the air we breathe in.
So while some people are making quite a lot of money from this fuel scarcity (side eye), there are people that are literally going to die painful deaths because of their accumulated exposure.
Let me paint a picture:
You leave your house and drive to a Petrol Station and probably spend hours in a queue in this vapor rich environment. I do concede that due to the fact that since it is outdoors and not enclosed, ventilation will "dilute" most of the vapors and they will dissipate quickly. You fill up your tank and of course, purchase petrol in at least one jerry can.
This is necessary because the power situation in the country still has its issues. Also, you want a back up supply for your car just in case you run out of fuel during the week.
So, you load up your supplies and drive home. If you have the sort of car that opens up to the boot, you will be able to smell that fuel all the way home. The smell pervades your car. Even if you drive a typical sedan, with a trunk that is separate from the rest of the car, it somehow comes through.
How come? Vapors. Fuel vaporizes fairly easily and Benzene is quite volatile so it vaporizes easily too and fills the air with its...erm...special brand of goodness.
So, you get home and you store your fuel on your balcony (if you live in an flat and have limited storage space), or a place farther away if you have adequate space (Better practice. Best practice would be not bringing it home at all).
Time to pour fuel from the jerry can to a car or into a generator and most people tip the jerry can over and use a funnel to fill the tank. Some others use a hose – sticking one end in the jerry can and then sucking on it to utilize suction (see what I did there? lol!) to draw the fuel into the generator or car tank. In some cases, the fuel finds its way into the person’s mouth. I have seen this. Please never do this.
Then of course when we turn on our generators (or our neighbours do) and along with the noise…story for another day…there is also all the emissions. Carbon Monoxide being one of the major concerns. BTEX also still being one of the concerns even then.
If you read through my story carefully, you see several instances of exposure.
Now, what can we do about the situation?
In an ideal world, we would not even go into the points below, but given our situation, this is the best I feel we can do.
- Where possible, buy fuel at Petrol Stations with short queues. I have been buying at stations that have virtually no queue but are selling above the N87/litre pump price. That is a trade off I readily to make. I am in and out in 5 minutes. Reduces my exposure exponentially.
- If you must buy petrol in jerry cans, dump the common plastic ones and use those that are fit-for-purpose.
I have seen these for sale at Game. There are also other added benefits apart from BTEX exposure, so while these are pricey, they are safer and well worth it.
- When transporting fuel in your car, turn off your A/C, open your windows and let fresh air circulate. If you MUST use the A/C, ensure that you press the button that allows air from the outside to come in (I don’t know what it is called) so that there is dilution. That way, you are not sitting in a car that is circulating the same vapor laden air around.
- - Where possible, purchase fuel from a station close to your home. This cuts down the distance you need to drive with fuel cans in your car. It reduces your risk significantly.
- For transfers, buy a hose. No suction at all. This stuff causes cancer. You do not want it in your mouth at all. Even if you do not get the liquid in your mouth, the sucking motion gets the vapors in.
- So should you wear a dust mask while handling fuel? I would say don't bother. The pore size on the filters on dust masks are too big to protect you from vapors. If you work around these products, get an air purifying respirator with organic vapor cartridges. Not easy to find here in Nigeria but not impossible.
Hopefully, this Fuel Scarcity shall pass but until then, stay as safe as you can.
Want to read more about BTEX? There is a lot of coverage on the internet. You can start here.
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