Dandora school grows bamboo to mitigate air pollution

The foul smell and choking smoke emanating from the landfill dominate most parts of the compound

In Summary
  • The high levels of pollution have obliged the school management to take action to lessen the risks.
  • The bamboo project which was started by the school is an example of action taken by the institution to create a favorable environment for learning and the safety of both students and teachers.
Alfred Nyairo the environment club patron
Alfred Nyairo the environment club patron

It is about 2 pm at Dandora Secondary School, students have just come from lunch break and are already in class but some can be seen strolling around the football pitch carrying plates and cups.

Dandora Secondary School is just about 12 kilometres from Nairobi's central business district and adjacent to East Africa’s largest landfill- Dandora dumpsite.

Despite being declared full in 2001 hundreds of trucks full of trash are still flocking to the site delivering trash that comes across the city therefore continue polluting the air in the neighborhood.

The foul smell and choking smoke emanating from the landfill dominate most parts of the compound interrupting visibility and flow of oxygen.

“Recurrent coughing is a common thing here. Dandora dumpsite is the reason for all these,” says Eutycus Thiong’o school principal.

Thiong’o added that the closer the school to the landfill has contributed much pollution in the compound; this mixed-day secondary school has been battling pollution for decades.

The high levels of pollution have obliged the school management to take action to lessen the risks.

The bamboo project which was started by the school is an example of action taken by the institution to create a favorable environment for learning and the safety of both students and teachers.

Thiong’o said when he was transferred to the school, the environment around him was intimidating, breathing smoothly was a challenge, and he had to struggle to capture oxygen.

“The first day I came to this school I realized that the air quality around was very poor, breathing was a challenge, as the head of the school, I had to do something as students and teachers were suffering silently,” says Thiong’o

Thiong’o added that after suffering for some time, he started doing some research on how to combat pollution and his research showed him bamboo as the most efficient plant to mitigate air pollution.

“I started doing some research on bamboo to prove if it can help us mitigate the pollution around here, I found out that a buffer fence of bamboo can help mitigate air foul smell,” Thiong’o says.

Dandora Secondary School Principal Eutycus Thiong’o
Dandora Secondary School Principal Eutycus Thiong’o

Bamboo as an air purifier

Why bamboo and not ordinary trees? Dr Paul Njogu an air quality expert and a researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said, that the tremendous growth rates, make bamboo a good candidate for carbon dioxide capture popularly referred to as carbon sequestration in climate change mitigation.

During the photosynthetic process that plants use to make food in the form of carbohydrates; carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere.

“The rate of carbon dioxide uptake by bamboo is one of the highest and thus a good climate mitigation approach,” says Njogu.

The same process, Njogu added, is used by plants and is also responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing oxygen in return.

This is a vital ecosystem service of air purification and thus planting bamboo can have wide benefits to the community and the environment at large.

Dr Njogu specified that Bamboo belongs to the grass family Poceae which are perennial plants that are one of the fastest growing plants in the world.

According to Njogu, certain species grow a total of 91 centimeters in a 24-hour period which presents a rate of 4 centimeters per hour in diameter.

Growth rates of 5 centimetres per hour have been observed in a species predominantly found in Japanese forests.

Air pollution

Last year UNEP, in partnership with the Stockholm Environment Institute, installed sensors in the Dandora area to monitor pollution levels from the dumpsite and the results were shocking, Out of the 166 days monitored, only 12 achieved the World Health Organization’s guidelines for a daily average of excellent air quality conditions.

According to statistics, Dandora’s PM 10 is three times more than the recommended rate by World Health Organization WHO, the area has the highest of PM 2.5 of 33.63 micrograms compared to WHO-safe levels of 25 micrograms per cubic meter on average over 24 HRS period.

Nairobi City County Deputy Director in Charge of Air Quality and Climate Maurice Kavai says to lessen air pollution, the county government of Nairobi has developed two air quality collocation installations and infrastructure reference grade monitors.

“The collocation will enable research teams to compare air quality data collected from various points within the city and come up with appropriate action,” says Kivai.

Kavai further said the availability of periodic data collected by the monitors enables the city to establish the extent of pollution in particular areas, identify the causes, and finally develop necessary actions.

Air pollution affects education and the health of learners

Thiong’o said the foul smell and smoke habitually enter classrooms and interrupt students by either choking or causing poor visibility resulting in poor performance in class work.

“Most of our Students here have respiratory illness, coughing is common, and some of them have eye problems which we believe are caused by air pollution,” says Thiong’o.

According to Dr Njogu, some pollutants have been blamed for the reduction of Intelligence quotient -IQ in children and lead to slowed or reduced brain development.

It’s thus detrimental to expose children whose organs have not fully developed to high levels of pollutants.

Njogu added that heavy metals such as Lead cause mental retardation and low IQ in children exposed to lead over a long period.

Alfred Nyairo school environment club patron and mathematics teacher says the dumpsite has been frightening but vows that the bamboo project started in school will make things differently.

Nyairo said students have been mandated to nurture the bamboo resulting in a 90 per cent survival rate which he said is encouraging, he further said the school has also planted close to four thousand trees in the neighbourhood.

Nyairo noted that the bamboos are doing well and they have already started benefiting from them as they grow taller.

The bamboo according to Nyairo will help the school combat pollution and improve the health of both teachers and students.

Nyairo says morabu stalk that comes from the site has also become a menace to school as they battle students for food leaving some with injuries.

According to experts, a mature Bamboo can sequester Carbon dioxide of over 450 Kgs per tree and reduce the level of Carbon Dioxide in an Environmental Sustainable way at the time of Sequestration it releases up to 320 Kgs of Oxygen per tree in a year which is sufficient for one person breath for the whole year.

Janet Maina nonteaching staff employee said since she started working in the school seven years ago she has developed breathing difficulties which doctors say are caused by inhalation of toxicities.

“Sometimes I feel difficulty breathing and pain in the chest and when I go to the hospital, I’m told my problem is related to toxic inhalation, something that is making me think otherwise, whether to resign from this job or continue,” says Maina.

Susan Atieno (not her real name), 16, a student in the school and a member of the environment club said they are optimistic that the project will improve air quality around the school and keep students out of pollution risk.

“We hope that bamboos will absorb the foul smell around here and give us more oxygen which we depend on for survival,” says Atieno.

Though Thiong’o and his staff have taken necessary action in combating pollution, he urged the government, experts and policymakers to ensure that the levels of pollution are lessened for the betterment of the community.

Supported by Internews Earth Journalism Network

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