The unrestricted sale and indiscriminate use of locally made insecticides in Lagos and some other states in the country, may lead to widespread cases of cancer, kidney infection, and other ailments among residents, experts are warning.
The experts also warned that unknown to many people the health risks of the locally made insecticides are real, even though some users say they are not aware of dangers associated with constant exposure to these chemicals that are now everywhere in the metropolis.
The sale of locally made insecticides has become a common sight in Lagos State, the nation’s biggest commercial city, despite having dangerous effects on the health of those constantly exposed to them.
These insecticides, some of which have no labels on them, are mostly sold in the evening at various bus stops in the state, usually to residents who are returning from their work and business places.
The sellers claim that the locally made insecticides are effective in killing insects, mosquitoes and rodents better than well-established brands of insecticides.
They also claim that the locally made insecticides are more affordable compared to other more known brands of insecticides.
It is, however, worrisome that the indiscriminate indoor use of these insecticides is now a common practice by many households in the state, even though they have serious attendant negative health consequences.
Findings by PUNCH HealthWise showed that most of these locally made insecticides have no NAFDAC registration number and their production details are unknown, yet they are supposed to be regulated products.
It also revealed that most of the producers of these locally made insecticides do not have the basic knowledge of the health dangers associated with the use of chemicals.
Physicians are now warning that the nation may be sitting on a keg of gunpowder that would explode and cause serious destruction by allowing this illegal business to continue unchecked, noting that it could lead to a sudden surge in kidney diseases and cancer cases.
According to the physicians, most of the locally made insecticides are derivatives of pyrethroid and pyretherin chemicals and other chemical components.
They stressed that these chemicals, when inappropriately mixed, particularly in high concentration, are capable of damaging vital organs of the body, including the brain and the respiratory system.
Some of the users of the locally made insecticides in an interview with PUNCH, claimed that the preparations are effective and affordable. They also noted that they are unaware of any known health risks associated with their usage.
I mix it with kerosene to make it stronger
A 65-year-old trader, Mrs. Rosemary Ajayi said that she has been using locally made insecticides for over five years now to kill mosquitoes, cockroaches and other insects in her house because they are very affordable. The Edo State indigene said,
“I normally use them to kill mosquitoes and cockroaches in my house. I live in a waterlogged area and so, mosquitoes are always a problem here. Before I use the insecticide, I mix it with kerosene to make it stronger.
“Sometimes, when a rat enters my room, I also use the insecticide to kill it. But for it to be able to kill a rat, I have to mix it with Sniper (another popular insecticide). There are, however, some very strong ones that can kill a rat, even without adding Sniper to them.
“The problem with those ones from my experience is that during the spraying, they will almost want to choke you.
“Again, if you apply them in the morning and go for your business, by the time you return home in the evening, the odour is still there.”
The grandmother continued,
“I am not aware of any health risk associated with the use of these insecticides. The only challenge I have using them is that during spraying, they bring out water from my eyes and make me have catarrh but after sometime, it will stop.
“But why I like using them in killing mosquitoes, cockroaches and other insects in my house is because they are very cheap. With N150, you can buy the one in a small plastic container that can last for a few days.
“The ones in big containers that will last for weeks are sold between N300 and N500. But with N500, you cannot buy any insecticide manufactured by any of these big companies. You can see that the locally made ones are very affordable and economical.
“Again, they are not scarce. You have them everywhere in different colours. Some have labels while others do not. But whether they have labels or not, they still work. However, I am always careful where I keep them in the house so that my grandchildren will not play with them.”
Another user, Mrs. Sherifat Arowolo from Oyo State, says she sees nothing wrong with the use of locally made insecticides since they are working, affordable and readily available.
“For me, I see nothing wrong with them. If they are risky, why has the government not arrested those producing them? I am not the only one using them. If you come to my compound, everybody is using them because they are working.
“And one thing about these locally made insecticides is that even with N100 you can buy the one that you can use to kill mosquitoes for three nights and sleep well. It works better when you mix it with kerosene. But concerning the health risk that you are talking about, I am not aware of any.
“It is possible that they may have a health risk, especially when people use them in large quantities. And some of them that have no labels on them, some people may not know how to use them,”
the food-seller said.
Experts say inhalation, absorption through the skin, ingestion and eye contact are the various ways a person may be exposed to the associated risk of these insecticides, some of which are prepared with unknown chemicals.
Can cause breathlessness, skin cancer
A Public Health Specialist, Dr. Abdullahi Namadi, stated that locally made insecticides are dangerous to health.
Namadi who is the Director of Public Health of Jigawa State Ministry of Health, said most of these locally made insecticides are derivatives of pyrethroid and pyrethrin chemicals and other chemical components. The director explained:
“These chemical components are mixed in certain proportions to be used either at home or at the farm. So, if not carefully managed, and the producers put high concentrations of these chemicals, they become unhealthy to humans because the way the body is made up, is similar to that of other organisms as well.
“So, the way it is affecting the organisms you are trying to kill, the way it will affect humans. That is why when you use such chemicals, you will start having irritation immediately. And that shows the concentration is too much for the body.
“That is why after coming in contact with these chemicals, sometimes, you start having itching on your nose and throat, as well as pain. That shows the concentration is too high and if care is not taken, it can affect the whole system in the body.
“Because by the time the chemicals get into the respiratory system, the person will start having breathlessness. And by having breathlessness, it is affecting the respiratory system.”
Mrs. Victoria Ufot and other users who spoke with PUNCH said though they cannot vouch for the safety of these locally made insecticides, they will, however, continue to use them, until they can afford the well-established brands.
“I cannot allow mosquitoes to bite me and my children and at the end of the day, I will be running around treating them for malaria when I can use these insecticides that are cheaper than antimalarials to kill them.
“We hardly suffer from malaria in my house because we don’t give mosquitoes any breeding space. I spray it every night in all the rooms before we go to bed. About the health risk of constant exposure, I don’t know of any.
“But all I know is that sometimes, after spraying them, you start coughing and sneezing, especially if you buy those ones that are made with very strong chemicals,”
Why I don’t use labels
A producer who preferred anonymity told our correspondent that she learnt the trade of producing local insecticides in three days from a friend.
She declined to give details of the names of chemicals used in producing her products which have no labels on them. She said:
“I am not ready to talk to you much about it because I am not registered with NAFDAC. I don’t want anybody to come after me. I am not the only one producing locally made insecticides without being registered by the government. With N5,000, you can learn the trade.
“I am into it to make ends meet. And a lot of people are using them because they are very effective in killing mosquitoes and cockroaches and are also affordable.
“Before, I had labels on my products. But the reason why I am not using labels again is that the cost of production has gone up and everything is now expensive.”
Exposure to local insecticides can cause brain, kidney damage
Giving further insight into the health risks associated with locally made insecticides, Namadi said the use of these insecticides can also affect the central nervous system and cause brain damage.
The public health physician specialist noted,
“Again, it can cause cancer of the skin. So, these chemicals are really dangerous. Also, when these chemicals get into the system, it is one of the causes of kidney damage that we are having in the country because they affect almost all the systems in the body.
“It is very important we regulate the way these chemicals are used. Otherwise, we will kill ourselves without knowing what we are doing.
“Some of the people selling these insecticides don’t know the danger of what they are doing.
“Unfortunately, the regulatory agencies are not doing much to curtail what is happening.”
He also stated that the danger of exposure of pregnant women and children to these insecticides is very high.
A Professor of Radiology at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu State, Ifeoma Okoye, stated that insecticides are chemicals used to control insects by killing or repelling them from destructive behaviours.
Prof. Okoye who is the Director of UNN Centre for Clinical Trial, said the most commonly used insecticides are organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates.
Chemicals should be regulated
According to her, because these chemicals also have the potential to harm and kill humans, the use of insecticides should be properly regulated. She said,
“However, insecticides use in Nigeria has been largely unregulated, posing numerous health risks, including cancers to unsuspecting citizens.
“One locally produced insecticide that readily comes to mind is ‘Ota piapia’. This is a vernacular name of Igbo origin, from eastern Nigeria origin, and a household name for insecticide, rodenticide, or pesticide. The vernacular name implies, “that which completely consumes or devours”.
“The active ingredient is dichlorvos or 2,2dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP), an organophosphate compound. Late Prof Dora Akunyili, in an article, warned that most of the chemical constituents of this local insecticide were unknown and it was yet to be registered with NAFDAC for use.
“However, despite her warnings, the use of the local insecticide continued to proliferate due to its cheap production, efficacy, accessibility, and affordability.
“Unfortunately, apart from the fact that it is often compounded in its undiluted state, it is often mixed with other chemicals, such as kerosene or carbide.”
To limit exposure to local insecticides, she suggested the use of face masks while applying the chemical, hand washing after application of the chemical as well as change of clothes.
Prof. Okoye said it would also be prudent to educate the populace on the proper use of insecticides at home.
According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 12.6 million people die annually as a result of living in an unhealthy environment.
“Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries”,
Respiratory disease in children
Another health expert, Dr. Chinwe Onyia, said the effects of some of the chemicals used as active ingredients in producing some of the locally made insecticides, such as organophosphates including dichlorvos, are myriad.
Onyia, a gastroenterologist with UNTH, warned that these chemicals inhibit cholinesterase enzymes, causing acute poisoning if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. She said:
“Organophosphate poisoning has also been associated with neuropathy, increased incidence of respiratory disease in children, childhood brain tumours and increased risk of a leukaemia subtype known as hairy cell leukaemia.
“Reports by researchers published in Plos Medicine indicate that exposure to organophosphates , even at low levels, increased the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits and autism for prenatal children, when pregnant women are exposed to the chemical.”