In a classic case of blessing turned curse, a business venture formed to create jobs, eradicate poverty and lift the living standards of shantytown dwellers in Mombasa has instead been linked to pollution, sickness and more than 10 deaths.
For eight years, residents of the Kambodia Kikaangoni ghetto in Mikindani have inhaled clinker dust spewed by Motrext Transporters Limited. Motrex hosts Corrugated Sheets Ltd, which loads and offloads clinker for transportation.
Clinker is a nodular material produced during the production of cement. It is dangerous and may cause severe skin irritation, chemical burns as well as damage to human tissue, including eyes and other organs.
Inhaling cement clinker dust over a period of time may, in some cases, result in cancer. Continued overexposure to clinker dusts containing silica can also lead to silicosis, a chronic, progressive and sometimes fatal lung disease.
Silicosis can develop in weeks with high exposure and after years of lower exposure. Its symptoms and signs include cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, decreased pulmonary function, and changes in chest X-rays.
Motrex, the company at the centre of this controversy, looms over the establishments that dot the Kambodia Kikaangoni ghetto, including hundreds of households, four schools, six churches, a mosque, a health centre and a children’s playing field.
More than 10 people from this slum have died of suspected clinker poisoning since the storage started in 2010.
Recently, two succumbed. The corpses of Everlyn Nabwire and Samson Wafula were last week transported for a burial in Western.
Dozens of residents have also been hospitalised and a costly treatment is ongoing. The breathing of some is so laboured. Additionally, over 3,000 lives of these residents are at risk of more poisoning, as the company steps up clinker storage.
Students are losing about three weeks of learning every term due to sickness linked to the dust. Churches have limited number of services because they cannot withstand the filth.
The two companies employ nearly 600 people who are also endangered.
Rage is mounting and a petition is being signed to have the companies relocated. Fredrick Ojiro, a community human rights activist and a researcher, is petitioning the closure of the companies. Unlike other similar cases, no class-action lawsuit has been initiated yet.
Motrex, however, has denied causing the deaths, injuries or sickness.
Residents have told the Star that every night, a huge cloud of clinker dust billows from the company’s sheds. This dust finds itself into their homes, schools and churches, resulting in direct contact.
“We hardly sleep. We get choked daily,” Kaingu Charo said. The dust has affected two of his three children, who are facing breathing complications. The youngest, Solphline, is eight months old and the oldest, Sarah, is four years old.
“Solphine started facing difficulties in breathing while she was just two months old. Her coughs were dry,” Charo said. To date, his children have not accessed proper medical care and still live in the neighbourhood.
The families of the deceased said their loved ones coughed blood prior their deaths. The late Samson Wafula’s sister, Sarah Shimoni, said, “Wafula died on the way to Port Reitz Hospital. Life has become unbearable. It is only six months since I buried my father.”
Mwanarusi Faki, who lost her husband, said her son is affected, too.
“We complained and the factory stopped the operation before resuming their activities,” she said.
Mwende Musyoka, 34, said her eyes have been affected. She said her two sons’ skins are peeling off and they are registering chest pains.
She said they have husky voices “due to prolonged inhalation of clinker”. “I have been spending between Sh800-Sh4,000 for drugs monthly. The situation is bad. At times, I cannot afford these medicines,” she said.
Thurea Hemed, who is using an inhaler and shares a wall with the company, said she cannot relocate because she occupies her own house.
Mary Kagwi, 11, a student, struggles to see and only has clear vision when it rains. Ruth Jeffer said she is experiencing joint and throat pains.
The slum has four schools — Oasis of Love, Shalom Nursery, Sir Yusuf and Joy academy — whose student population is close to 500.
Oasis head teacher Spenser Mwende said class attendance is always disrupted.
“It is irregular. Students often fall ill and miss classes. This makes it difficult for a teacher to attain his objective,” she said.
Fredrick Ojiro said there is high demand for clinker and steel, which gives Motrex and Corrugated a booming business. Ojiro is collecting signatures to have the company shut down or relocated. So far, about 600 locals have signed the petition.
“The country’s infrastructural development of roads and buildings has triggered more importation of clinker. Everywhere, clinker is killing people. This is an issue that needs urgent addressing,” Ojiro said.
Ojiro said the rights to cleaner environment have been violated, and demanded justice. “We want to petition the Senate to intervene and force an independent air quality test. The Committee on Health should come down and document this injustice,” he said.
The National Environmental Management Authority on June 11 issued three “improvement orders” after a ground inspection at the facility. The inspection was “in response to a public complaint on air quality violations”.
“[You are hereby ordered] to undertake and submit to Nema an air quality analysis report of the yard within 21 days. The analysis should give the components and concentrations of the air samples collected and analysed,” Moses Nguthu of Nema Port Office wrote to the two companies.
According to the letter which the Star has seen, Nguthu asked the companies to “control speed and frequency of truck movements within the facility and inside the clinker storage sheds respectively to reduce dust emissions”.
The third order was to “undertake regular daily sprinkling of water along motor-able pathways within the yard to contain dust generation and emission”.
Nguthu warned the two would face a jail term or a fine or both if they failed to comply with the orders and requirements. “[You will be] liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than a year but not more than four years or to a fine of not less than Sh2 million but not more than Sh4 million or to both such imprisonment and fine,” the letter states.
Nema director Steven Wambua said the analysis report was done by SGS, which is accredited by Nema. “If they mess up with the results, they mess up with their credibility and risk being deregistered by Nema.”
Nema met the companies on Thursday after the report was given to Wambua. The director said this was not the first complaint against Motrex.
Speaking to the Star yesterday, Nema officials said the sanctioned air quality test revealed that the dust from Motrex has clinker element. They said emission cannot fully be stopped. The authority issued improvement orders to mitigate any effect.
The recommendations include: erection of a three-metre iron sheet on top of the existing perimeter wall that borders the community, establishment of flaps at the loading and offloading zone to reduce dust emission, and setting up of a barrier as high as the sheds.
Other directives were putting up windbreakers at the concrete wall bordering the road, and sprinkling of water on the motor pathways at least thrice daily.
Motrex has denied clinker dust emanating from their sheds is causing deaths or even sickness, citing lack of proof. It called for another “detailed” test.
Corrugated Sheets Ltd picked two calls but did not address the issue. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
Motrex claimed all regulations have been adhered to, saying parties with sinister motives are targeting them. However, Motrex did not dispute emission of clinker dust.
General manager Islam Saleh said they are responsible for emission of the dust, which he nonetheless claimed is not harmful.
“As a host, we are partly responsible [for emission]. That is why we don’t refer you to Corrugated when you are seeking answers,” he said.
The GM said if the dust was harmful, his company would have been the first casualty. “None of my 607 staff has died, nor had a health complication,” he said.
But a worker who spoke in confidence said he has chest complications and claimed they are not secure. “We are so exposed. The only protective gear is a dust mask. We can’t complain to the management because we will be sacked,” he said.
But Saleh said: “We have a doctor who does regular checkups. Chest complications can be caused by age.”
Saleh said officials from the Environment and Health ministries and Nema have visited the facility several times. He said their recommendations were implemented.
“We have nothing to hide. If there is a problem, we will deal with it but through a proper channel,” the boss said.
He added that the company is certified environmentally annually.