Just In: Nigeria’s Fuel Crisis Fuels Health Hazards


Amid the lingering fuel crisis in Nigeria, cases of hazardous health effects from unsafe exposure to Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, (petrol) has been on the increase.

Reports of persons reporting to the hospital with complaints of headache, nausea, dizziness and respiratory irritation, etc., after accidental ingestion of petrol or inhalation of the fumes, have been on the increase lately in Lagos and other large cities.

Besides being highly combustible and a potential fire hazard, human contact with petrol could be hazardous in several ways, and even though limited contact with the fiery product is usually harmless, it is quite toxic when touched, swallowed, or inhaled persistently.

On Thursday, private hospitals in Ilasamaja and Yaba areas in the Lagos Mainland admitted two unidentified persons that reportedly slumped after a long siege at a nearby petrol station.

Saturday Vanguard gathered that at least one of the patients – a fuel pump attendant – and others among persons queuing to purchase fuel in jerry cans, were given emergency resuscitation, placed on oxygen and closely monitored before being discharged.

Reports of extended exposure or contact with petrol and its vapours in large amounts or over an extended period of time can cause serious health complications, and ingesting just a small quantity can be fatal. In addition, evidence shows that it is the petrol vapour, not essentially the liquid, that is hazardous. It is the vapour that burns the skin and the nasal passages when inhaled. 

Experts warn that petrol’s high risk to health has to do with the toxic chemical compounds it contains, known as aromatic hydrocarbons.  Petrol contains large amounts of these dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene –  a known human carcinogen.

Others include butadiene, toluene (methylbenzene), ethylbenzene, xylene (dimethylbenzene), trimethylpentane, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and many others which have shown evidence of increased risk of leukemia (blood cancer), kidney, liver, brain, pancreas, aerodigestive tract and prostate cancers.

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Even small quantities of these chemicals can negatively affect the functioning of the Central Nervous System  and cause irreversible organ damage. Worse still, direct contact with the skin can cause irritation and chronic exposure may affect the nervous system, blood and kidneys, while high and prolonged exposure can cause coma and death.

With this in mind,  the risk of cancer in humans exposed to petroleum products cannot be ruled out, particularly the risk of skin and blood cancers.

Petrol is not just toxic when ingested; it can damage the skin, eyes, and lungs. When ignited, petrol releases several harmful chemicals, one of which is carbon monoxide – a deadly gas when inhaled in high concentrations or for a prolonged period of time.

Inhaling of the vapours can irritate the sensitive lung tissues, and the chemicals can enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, some of these chemicals can make it difficult for the body to move oxygen around the body tissues, causing healthy tissue to die.

Safety tips for handling fuel

  • Use only approved portable containers and store containers at room temperature, away from sources of heat or ignition such as the sun, portable heaters, sparks, and flames; keep in a well-ventilated area.
  • Avoid spilling petrol on your skin or inhaling the vapour. Use absorbent materials to clean up and prevent the spill from spreading. Open caps of storage containers only during filling and pouring to minimise the release of fuel vapours.
  • Never siphon petrol by mouth. It is harmful if swallowed. If ingested, do not induce vomiting, but get medical help immediately. Use approved siphoning equipment to remove fuel. Do not use a hose.
  • Avoid prolonged or repeated skin contact with petrol. Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water in case of contact.
  • Avoid inhaling petrol vapours or mists.
  • Remove any clothing that is wet with petrol, let the liquid evaporate completely outdoors before washing. Thoroughly clean such clothing before reuse.
  • Never use petrol as a cleaning agent.
  • Do not over-fill a container. Leave a little space to allow for expansion. Do not put containers of fuel inside the passenger area of a vehicle. Keep filled fuel containers outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.

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