The streets of Accra and the highways sometimes become dark, not with clouds but thick exhaust fumes from ‘tired’ vehicles.
Many motorists, pedestrians and other road users may not be aware of the danger in inhaling carbon monoxide, but they sure won’t escape its devastating health implications, the list of which is endless.
Carbon monoxide (CO), according to the US Department of Labour, is a poisonous, colourless, odourless and tasteless gas.
The Director of the Public Health Department of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Dr Simpson Anim Boateng, conceded that the issue of CO was a major public health concern in Accra.
“It is a huge bother. It is a serious public health issue because it can cause lung cancer, pneumonitis and bronchitis and also trigger asthmatic attacks,” he said.
Unfortunately, even the current Road Traffic Regulations are silent on the standard of levels of emission required on Ghana’s roads.
Dr Boateng described the fumes as dangerous because they inhibited the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and the brain.
Some medical experts also indicated that CO could have severe effects on the foetus of a pregnant woman who was exposed to it, leading to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and the heart.
“The inhalation of CO can lead to even death, while chronic exposure to low levels of it can lead to depression, confusion and memory loss,” they stated.
Maame Ama, a 37-year-old hawker at Kaneshie, experiences bouts of headache, sometimes very severe. Those invasive headaches, according to her, were sometimes accompanied by fatigue, which greatly affected her sales, as she usually had to close early during the attacks.
Unfortunately for Maame Ama, she did not realise on time that her persistent headaches and fatigue were because of where she had sat in the past, which was then very close to the road.
Self-medication had not allowed her to know the cause of her problem.
“I also didn’t realise in time that it was the fumes from exhaust pipes that were creating so much problem for me because anytime I felt the headaches and fatigue, I just bought a pain killer; until I visited the clinic last two months,” she stated.
Just like Maame Ama, people easily conclude that they have influenza when they experience headaches, fatigue, malaise and nausea, but the truth could be that they have inhaled doses of CO and their system is just reacting to the poison.
Mr Yaw Manu, a retired teacher, told the Daily Graphic that inhaling the fumes from vehicles affected his health badly.
Mr Manu is asthmatic and cannot also use air-conditioners, which means he faces double agony each time he has to go anywhere, especially within Accra.
“Our streets are too polluted and this must be checked,” he stated.
Smoky vehicles — are they also roadworthy?
Arguably, the Kasoa-Mallam highway is one of the most polluted corridors in Accra. The reason is that the stretch is saturated with old rickety Tata buses.
The Daily Graphic, for instance, observed that a Tata bus, GR 5193 B, WR 1701 A, with the inscription ‘Pretty Jet’ and belonging to the Ghana Airways Retired Workers Association, released huge volumes of CO on the Kaneshie Highway that a motorcycle rider had to stop abruptly to allow the bus to travel a distance before he continued with his journey.
Pedestrians had to use their handkerchiefs to reduce the amount of CO they had to inhale.
Incidentally, many of these vehicles have valid roadworthy certificates from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA).
The Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police Service, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police Mr Alexander Obeng, could arrest such vehicles if the unit thought that the amount of CO was injurious to the health of people.
He was, however, unable to tell the Daily Graphic the last time they impounded such vehicles.
The DVLA is mandated to ensure that vehicles are in good condition before their roadworthy certificates are renewed.
“I cannot say that all these vehicles have roadworthy certificates or not, but I can say that every vehicle that plies our road is supposed to have a road worthy certificate,” Alhaji Iddrisu Huseine, a deputy director of Vehicle Inspection and Registration (VIR) at the DVLA, who himself reacts badly to CO, stated.
The Road Traffic Regulations 2012, LI 2180, emphasises safety on roads. However, the issue of vehicular emission has not been sufficiently covered to indicate the standards for the country.
For instance, Regulation Two states, “A person shall not drive a vehicle on the road unless the engine of that motor is covered and does not pose a danger to other users of the road.”
While it is expedient to arrest and prosecute owners of such vehicles on grounds of causing harm to other road users, some of the drivers said such a move would deny them their daily bread.
Kwame Atta, a driver on the Odorkor-Kaneshie road, said he had been driving his vehicle for close to 10 years now and did not see why he should be arrested for doing genuine business.
Air conditioners do not help
In trying to escape these fumes, some motorists often use air conditioners.
But that was yet another danger, Dr Boateng stated.
“Motorists who have air-conditioners and can afford to use it are also at risk of developing respiratory conditions because it is saturated air,” he said.
According to him, it was also not advisable for people to always use air conditioners because of the cold temperature it gave.
But that advice will definitely be hard to observe on the Odorkor-Kaneshie-Accra stretch of road.