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Chinese-owned mining company exposes residents to hearing loss, respiratory illnesses

June 5, 2023

Rock blasting activities carried out by a Chinese-owned quarry company have dealt heavy blows on residents of 13 communities in a town in Kwara State….

In her one-room apartment in Ifesowapo, a community in Orogbangba Town, in the Asa Local Government area of Kwara State, Abidemi Adegboyega jumped at the sound of a loud blast.

The accompanying vibration, which could be likened to that of an earthquake, sent jitters down the spine of the mother of two.

Panic-stricken and apprehensive, Abidemi dashed across the room to pick up her yelling two-week-old baby, who all the while had been sleeping peacefully.

Still in shock, she tried to pacify the wailing infant and ran outside as the house continued to vibrate from the impact of the deafening sound.

Outside, the nursing mother was greeted by choking white dust that had taken over the skyline, burying the rays of a once blazing sun.

Speaking later with PUNCH Healthwise about her experience, the mother of two said she was yet to recover from the heavy blast, which she claimed left cracks on the walls of several houses within the community.

She revealed that subsequently, several other blasts have occurred, noting that she and other occupants always nursed fears of an imminent collapse of the building where they live.

She recounted, “I pray that there won’t be a catastrophe in this community one day. The rock blasting is really so loud, powerful and harmful to us. That very day, it was as if the house wanted to collapse. I ran outside and ran back inside in shock. I was confused. I thought it was an earthquake.

“I thought the world was coming to an end because the shock was too much. I held my baby tightly to my chest and was shaking.

“White dust covered the whole sky. Initially, I thought there was an accident, but not until I came outside and realised it was from the Chinese quarry site. I was the only one at home with my baby. The company usually blast rocks when people would have gone to work.”

13 communities haunted by deafening quarry blasts

Ifesowapo is among the 13 communities in Orogbangba, a town that has been profoundly affected by the disruptive activities of a Chinese-owned quarry company, China Kaidi.

Other communities daily troubled by the blasts are – Ire Akari Jaleoyemi, Alubarika, Aiyetoro, Irewolede, Iwotedo, Oke Alayo, Ayegbami, Toluwalase, Waterside, Orire, Surulere, and Itesiwaju.

Located along the Ilorin-Ogbomoso Expressway in Kwara State, Orogbangba, which is approximately two kilometres from the popular Lagos-Ogbomosho Expressway, the town has over five thousand residents.

The traditional ruler of Orogbangba, who is referred to as Mogaji Elulu, is Alhaji Nuhu Abdulkarim.

He told our correspondent that the town has about six hundred residential houses built across the thirteen communities.

PUNCH Healthwise learnt that since the company was established, the frequent blasting of rocks with explosives usually forces residents out of their homes and had caused unquantifiable structural damages to several houses.

It was gathered that some houses have collapsed in the past.

Residents said they live with the perennial fears that they might have been exposed to several health risks.

“There is no house without cracks. The blast and vibrations have sent many to their untimely graves,” lamented the traditional ruler solemnly.

Environmental law disregarded

Although the National Environmental Regulations (2013) specified that a Quarry site should not be sited in residential, commercial, or industrial areas within a three-kilometre radius. PUNCH Healthwise’s investigation, however, discovered that the operation of the China Kaidi quarry is just less than 60 meters from the 13 communities in Orogbangba.

Using Google Earth to measure the distance from the quarry site to the last building in Orogbangba, it was discovered that the distance is less than three kilometres, which is against the recommended environmental regulation.

Orogbangba cracked communities

PUNCH Healthwise investigations showed that the continuous blasting of rocks by China Kaidi Company had caused significant damage to many homes across Orogbangba town and made some unsafe to live in.

It was learnt that for some time now, no new building has been constructed due to fears of imminent collapse.

While touring the thirteen communities in Orogbangba, our correspondent observed that several structures, fences and roofs of several houses appeared as if they would collapse at any moment.

Gaping cracks were like a unifying architectural signature on practically all the houses.

It was learnt that remedial efforts made to repair damages done to the buildings are usually destroyed as soon as they are carried out.

The residents complained that the rock blasting and stone crushing process carried out by the company is not time-specific, as it can happen anytime.

Although the residents claimed the quarry company is located on the outskirt of a neighbouring town, Eiyenkorin, they claimed to be the ones suffering from the negative impacts of its activities.

Investigating impacts of blasts, vibrations on structures

To ascertain how a blast and vibration from a quarry site can cause cracks in walls, some researchers from Norwegian Geotechnical Institute embarked on an investigation.

They discovered that construction activities such as blasting can produce vibrations of sufficient strength to cause damage to neighbouring buildings and structures.

The study, which was led by K.M. Norén-Cosgriff, discovered that the onset of blast-induced cracking was observed in two instrumented test structures located in a rock quarry.

Two buildings were constructed, one in cast-in-place concrete without reinforcement, and one made of lightweight construction blocks in expanded clay aggregate.

The buildings were instrumented with geophones and Fiber Bragg Grating Sensors (strain sensors).

In addition, vibrations on the ground surface and air blast overpressure were measured.

Test blasts were designed to produce increasing vibration values, starting with peak particle velocities (PPVs) of around 20 mm/s and ending with PPVs above 250 mm/s.

At the end of the study, it was discovered that the response of buildings to ground vibration and vibration damage mechanisms for concrete and lightweight aggregates masonry buildings.

The researchers also found out that residential building closer to a quarry site will suffer crack due to the heavy vibration.

Similarly, a professor at the Department of Construction Engineering at the American University in Cairo, Ezzeldin Yazeed, stated in a report that subsurface construction blasting causes ground vibration that may harm residential buildings.

According to him, a family of waves is produced when a charge detonates in a solid medium (like a rock), adding that the waves have various wave velocities and produce various particle motions.

The professor said, “Residential buildings may be affected by the resulting ground-borne vibrations in a variety of ways, from bothering the occupants to severely causing “cosmetic” or structural damage.

“Problems may occur as a result of large amplitude (low frequency) vibrations, repeated smaller amplitude vibrations, or from differential settlement induced by soil particle rearrangement.”

Residents count losses, groan 

Nusirat AbdulRasaq, a town planner, told our correspondent that she rebuilt her house four times due to the impacts of the blast on the structure.

She, however, said within a year of moving in, she had lost count of how many times she renovated and repaired damages done to her roof and walls.

The homeowner, who is in her 50s, blamed the quarry company for making her incur financial losses.

With frustration etched on her face, she lamented, “There is no how you will not feel the impact of the blast when they start. The whole house will be vibrating terribly. You will think the world wants to end.

“I have done several renovations. While constructing my house, it collapsed about four times. At a point, I had to pull it down to start all over again.

“The activities of the Chinese company are really affecting us. We want the government to intervene and stop them from blasting rocks.”

Nusirat is not the only one that had to carry out a series of renovations on their homes. Other residents that spoke with PUNCH Healthwise were also facing the same dilemma.

When a part of her house collapsed, Haleemat Qazeem was forced to put up with a friend due to safety concerns.

She bemoaned the fact that despite numerous renovations carried out after, cracks continued to appear on the structure.

While showing our correspondent recent cracks that just surfaced, she said, “I had to run away from the house when some of the structure collapsed. I just came back recently after doing some little renovation.

“Renovating the same cracks every time is time-consuming. I am tired. They should help us to beg the Chinese company to let us have peace in our community. They have destroyed several properties.

Counting her losses, Adegboyega recounted how her husband has been spending money endlessly to carry out repairs on the house so that it would not collapse unexpectedly.

“Once one crack is fixed, another one would appear. We keep spending money on unnecessary things. The company is richer than us, but keeps making life unbearable for us. The little money we have, they want us to spend it all on renovation,” she added.

The Community Development Association chairman of all thirteen communities, Ahmed Ishaq, disclosed that most landlords have sold their houses and relocated outside Orogbangba.

He lamented that the town is no longer developing because people are no longer buying lands to build.

The CDA chairman, who also claimed to be a real estate agent, expressed worries that it is nearly impossible to persuade people to purchase land within the 13 communities due to frequent explosions that usually occur when they come for any land inspection.

Recounting one of his bad experiences, he said, “There was a time I wanted to sell land to a prospective buyer. We agreed on a price and he asked me to send my account details so that he can pay. While we were still discussing, there was a blast.

“The man had to run for his life. I was not really surprised by the blast because it has become a normal way of life for us here but the man was scared. All efforts to convince the buyer that the place was safe, failed. That single incident discouraged him from buying any land here.”

The CDA chairman also lamented that businesses are wounding up in the community, adding, “Many people are leaving the town because they can’t cope. Businesses are collapsing and this will affect development.”

The quarry’s operation

An investigation by PUNCH Healthwise showed that the company uses explosives to blast rocks before crushing them into various sizes for sale.

Our correspondent learnt that after blasting the rocks, the Chinese-owned quarry extracts minerals like limestone, basalt, granite, gravel, and crushed rocks, which are then sold.

It was gathered that the quarry company carries out blasting operations at least twice a week and does not have any form of alert system to warn residents about an impending explosion.

According to a quarry worker that spoke with PUNCH Healthwise on condition of anonymity, the company can spend between three to four days drilling deeply into the rock before blasting.

The source hinted that Ammonium nitrate, titanium, and aluminium were combined to create the explosion that the corporation uses.

The insider revealed that the company engaged in frequent rock blasting despite knowing that it is against the law.

This is so they can have more than enough products to sell to construction sites around the Ilorin metropolis.

“The company knows that there is risk in what they are doing. The explosives they use to blast rocks are very strong and we (workers) know that.

“The company is not doing surface blasting like some people do. They dig deep and this is why we always have that strong vibration. In fact, when we are about to throw the explosives inside the drilled rock, we always ask vehicles coming from the northern part of the country and those from Lagos to hold on at some miles away. This is because the explosion shakes the whole environment,” the source revealed.

Also corroborating his claim, the CDA chairman said, Ishaq said, “They know the time the explosion will happen and during the period, they will ask vehicles to wait. When the rock explodes, it can cause heavy vibrations and many things dangerous objects would be flying around.

“We that live close to them suffer the most. The force of the blast can throw someone away. We have instances where flying rocks from the blasting site entered houses in the town. It is God that has been saving us here.”

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