Dangers of Oil and Gas exploration to reproductive health by Prof. Oladapo Ashiru
Exposure to environmental toxins (in the form of industrial chemicals) both in utero and in the neonatal period may dramatically affect adult fertility. Indeed, the consequences can extend to three generations, at least.
Most chemicals used in everyday life do not go through the same checks as medicines, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Consequently, poisonous chemicals end up circulating in our environment, food supply, air and water. Such toxins include pesticides (Science August 16, 2013, www.sciencemag.org), chemical and ubiquitous contaminants (Woodruff et al., EHP 2011; Research Brief 217, NIEHS, Jan 2013),
Experiences acquired over the last three decades in the management of infertility within and outside the country, in addition to those obtained since the establishment of the first Modern Mayr Medicine Health clinic in Lagos, has rekindled my interest in an article that we published in the Reproductive Health magazine about six years ago on reproductive occupational health hazards. The report was published in the African Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
One has realised that virtually most of our patients presenting with infertility, who come from the oil-producing regions, have myriads toxins and heavy metal overload, such that even the best of IVF with good embryos do not stand a good chance of a positive result unless such patients undergo a thorough Mayr Therapy detoxification process.
The success recorded in the management of such cases of infertility, prostate ailments and liver disease has necessitated a revisit of this subject, with a particular focus on the environmental hazards associated with exposure to toxins peculiar to the oil and gas sector. We gave attention to prevention of these health hazards, as well as management of established cases, including the fatal ones.
Over the last 100 years, oil and gas have emerged as two of the most sought-after energy sources in the world. Petroleum products, such as gasoline, propane, kerosene, heating oil and asphalt, as well as many plastics, paints, pesticides, solvents and cosmetics, are used on a daily basis by the majority of the population. Some clothes and medicines are from oil.
The development of our petrochemical industry has brought us great wealth in Nigeria. Not only has the country benefited economically in increased wealth, but many workers are also reaping the rewards as high salary earners. But crude oil is toxic and has many harmful effects on our health and the environment. It emits many toxins in all stages of its extraction and refinement, starting with the methods used to explore the environment and dig for it, transport it, purify it into various products, as well as how the end-users then consume it.
Numerous chemicals are used in various processes in the oil and gas sector, the numbers and complexity of which have substantially increased over the past decades. Many of these chemicals are toxic and linked to many illnesses.
For example, Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (also known as 2-Butoxyethanol or 2-BE), which is found in foaming agents and used during hydraulic fracturing operations, is deadly when inhaled and may lead to blood disorders after exposure by a person. This chemical is also linked to liver cancer and can cause degeneration of the testes among other reproductive problems.
Another chemical called 2-(2-methoxy ethoxy) ethanol found in many products used in the oil and gas industry, including biocides, hydraulic fracturing fluids and shale stabilisers. It is a suspected carcinogen, known to cause deformities and organ malformations in newborn babies. It can also negatively affect male fertility.
EthoxylatedNonylphenol is used in surfactants and additives to increase the viscosity of the oil. This chemical is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and mediates hormonal imbalance, thereby negatively impacting male development and reproductive ability. It impedes brain development and also causes atrophy of the thymus (a critical component of the immune system).
Various pollutants released during the standard processes going on in the petroleum industry pose potential and severe health hazards. Despite precautions, accidents do occur periodically during the processes involved in the production, refining and distribution of petroleum products. These may result from accidental discharges attributed to equipment failure, malfunctioning and deterioration occasioned by corrosion and ageing of pipelines, as well as deliberate or willful acts of vandalisation.
Whether exploration takes place onshore or offshore, it generates wastes that include atmospheric emissions, spillage of drill cuttings, drilling fluids, deck drainage, well treatment fluids, sanitary and domestic wastes and accidental oil spills.
Atmospheric emissions from rigs consist mainly of exhaust from diesel engines supplying power to meet drilling and hoisting electricity requirements of platforms. These emissions may and do contain small amounts of Sulphur dioxide, (dependent upon fuel Sulphur content) and exhaust smoke (heavy hydrocarbons). An unexpected over-pressure formation encountered during drilling may result in a blowout or gas discharge.
Apart from the chemicals and the activities that take place during the processing of oil, oil itself is toxic. Breathing in fumes or swallowing food or liquids contaminated by oil and gas can cause reproductive health problems, such as irregular menstrual cycles, miscarriages, stillbirths and congenital disabilities. These problems may have early warning signs, such as abdominal pain or irregular bleeding.
Regular contact with oil and gas has also been linked to increased risk of developing certain cancers.
Refineries are factories where oil is converted into products such as gasoline, diesel and heating fuels, asphalt, lubricating oils, and plastics. These products are toxic when one gets regular and prolonged contact with them.
For the worker in an oil refinery, this is difficult to avoid. The health of such workers is therefore at significant risk. Such workers have a high risk of contracting cancer of the lip, stomach, liver, pancreas, connective tissue, prostate, eye, brain and blood.