Protect traffic police from noxious fumes

Car fumes

Traffic police officers face myriad challenges that go unreported and even unnoticed, one of them being inhaling harmful fumes from vehicles.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The plight of traffic police hardly features in public discourse, probably due to the negative perception of the unit resulting from claims that a few rotten elements in the National Police Service extort bribes from road users.

Just like other women and men in uniform, traffic police officers face myriad challenges that go unreported and even unnoticed, one of them being inhaling harmful fumes from vehicles.

More than 90 per cent of the 90,000 vehicles imported in the country annually are second-hand ones that emit exhaust fumes that are more harmful than those of new ones.

The older vehicles are less fuel-efficient and have higher emissions. Vehicular pollution is a significant source of the fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that are harmful to human beings.

A recent report by UN Environment (Unep) shows that the Kenyan fleet is relatively young and clean compared to other East African countries as a result of the recent ban on importation of motor vehicles manufactured before January 1, 2014. But that does not mean fumes from vehicles in the country are health-friendly.

Certificate of roadworthiness

The report pokes holes in some of the measures put in place by the government to limit vehicular emissions. For instance, it notes that while there is issuance of a certificate of roadworthiness from the exporter’s side, there is no mechanism available to the importing party to confirm that all vehicles, indeed, comply with the requirements.

The country also has no restrictions on vehicle imports based on mileage.

Vehicular emissions have been linked to several health problems—ranging from stroke to lung cancer and heart disease. Microscopic pollutants emanating from car and industrial sources can slip past the body’s defences, penetrating deep into the respiratory and circulatory system, damaging lungs, heart and brain, according to the WHO.

Studies have also linked air pollution to stillbirths, as well as low birth weight and stunted growth in children, among other health problems.

A study conducted in India among traffic police officers revealed that most of them had health problems such as chronic airway irritation and increased mucus production due to prolonged exposure to vehicular pollution.

Protect officers

The gallant officers, who wake up early daily to ensure smooth flow of vehicles on our roads, especially in cities and major towns, need to be protected from all these health problems.

The government must put in place measures to ensure that the officers are not exposed to these fumes by making available to them face masks such as N95 and surgical masks, which have been proved to offer the highest degree of protection against particulate air pollution.

Alternatively, it can adopt technologies that enable the officers to control vehicle on roads remotely, without exposing themselves to harmful fumes.

Mr Onyango, a reporter with ‘Taifa Leo’ and ‘Daily Nation’, is a climate change adaptation master’s student at the University of Nairobi. [email protected].