Breathing air of death: Coal dust pollution continues to plague Mombasa residents

When Ms Fatma Abdalla, a resident of Bombolulu Ryann Estate in Mombasa, started noticing black dust on her household and surfaces, she became concerned about the state of cleanliness in her home.

Little did she know that the house, located about 2 kilometres from a cement manufacturing quarry, was among hundreds of others who were experiencing a harmful experience.

Households in Kisauni and Nyali sub-counties in Mombasa now fear an outbreak of respiratory diseases after coal deposits from the cement company spread into their houses.

Inside the houses, a black substance in the form of coal dust that is spread by the wind has become a nuisance for the residents who have to clean their houses every 30 minutes.

The black dust from the coal, which is currently being transported from the port of Mombasa to the Bamburi Cement quarries, has affected residents within a three-kilometre radius.

Ms Abdalla says she is worried because her asthmatic child has to move around with an inhaler because of the polluted air.

“At first we thought that our house help was not doing a good job of cleaning the house, but after some time our neighbours also complained about the black substance in their houses. We then raised the matter with the relevant authorities. I managed to talk to officials from Bamburi Cement Company, but no solution has been found yet,” said Ms Abdalla.

Her neighbour Tanzilla Yahye also said they are now forced to wear face masks and socks to avoid the black substance.

“We can’t walk barefoot in our houses because of the black substance that has covered the floor, so we have to wear socks and masks to protect ourselves from the substance. It is really annoying, so we are calling on the company to come up with a solution,” she said.

At the Bamburi Cement open site, a number of trucks loaded with coal continue to arrive from the port of Mombasa with the substance, unaware of the dangers it poses to the locals.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people suffering from respiratory diseases, with those with asthma and TB having an increased attack. We have reported the matter to the county public health department and they have been here to assess the situation,” said Irene Kemunto, Kwa Bulo Community Health Volunteer.    

She added: “I have two TB patients near my house and six others a few metres away in Kadzandani who have been badly affected by the substance.”

As a result of the health concerns, the Mombasa County Environmental Health Department has stepped in and ordered the company to close the open coal deposit site to prevent further nuisance.

“The resulting dust deposits on surfaces within households in the surrounding communities have turned out to be a nuisance so we hereby require you within one day from the date of service of this notice to abate and prevent a recurrence of the said nuisance,” read the notice cosigned by Fozia Ali and Phenny Wakio, County Public Health Officers, to the cement manufacturing company.

The letter stated, “And for that purpose to stop using the new coal consignment received in the quarry site immediately, sprinkle water and cover the pile of coal awaiting safe environmental removal.”

When contacted, Bamburi Cement Company Communication team acknowledged the concern but promised to take measures to control the spread of the dust.

The company said it would issue a full statement on the matter on Monday.  

Bamburi Cement Company has been looking at biomass energy to reduce the use of expensive fuels such as coal in its production systems.

The firm’s plan is to almost triple the use of biomass energy in its production process from the current 12 per cent to 30 per cent.

The company is relying on burning condemned cargo from the port of Mombasa in its kilns, as well as oil waste from petrol stations, used tyres and garbage in cities to produce more biomass for cement.

Coal costs about $5 per gigajoule (GJ), while biomass costs about $2 per GJ, meaning Bamburi can save Sh3 million for every million GJ of biomass used, and the company spends about Sh15,000 per megawatt (MW).

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