•Expert warns that consumables left at the mercy of the elements are usually harmful to the human system
By Cosmas Omegoh
It was a hot afternoon at Apongbon, one of Lagos Island’s many boisterous bus stops. It was nearing the peak period. Workers and traders had begun rushing out of the Island. Drivers of the popular Lagos danfo buses and their conductors were in the heat of their act, wooing passengers desperate for a get away just before the mad rush began. Everyone was headed for the mainland and other areas in the city.
Operators of the danfo buses, Lagos’s popular yet notorious commuter buses, had recklessly parked their vehicles, calling out to passengers. The usual confusion they created prevented a free flow of traffic, thus reinventing the perennial gridlock which characterises the area. And each time that happens, agents of the Lagos Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) are overwhelmed.
As the confusion was mounting, many had begun arriving Apongbon from Victoria Island, Ikoyi and elsewhere in the city. And the traffic was at a standstill; it was a happy moment for the ubiquitous traffic vendors. They kept meandering through the traffic, peering into every vehicle, announcing their presence by thrusting in their wares as they made quick sales.
All around Apongbon, various retail shops were seen selling wines, spirits, table water and many other beverage drinks. Most of them were in cartons of all sizes. The traders stood them at vantage positions for their customers and buyers to see. Every trader seemingly was in fierce competition with his neighbours. That was the silent war that went on in the area.
On this occasion, the sun was beating down severely, scourging at everything around with high intensity. The items on display were not left out. All of them came under its grilling influence. Some of the wares’ packs and their labels were getting faded, probably having been exposed to the elements for long.
Not only in Lagos but in every Nigerian city, vendors expose sachet and table water, wines, sprits, drugs as well as beverages to the scourging sun in a bid to get them noticed. These items are kept in the sun sometimes all day or for as long as they are sold. By mere touching the products, one easily gets to understand the enormity of heat they had absorbed over time. Even hours after the sun has set, they still radiate such heat.
“Anytime I visit a grocery shop in the evenings to pick up my usual bags of sachets of water, I usually prefer the ones sourced from inside the shop,” a Lagos resident said on condition of anonymity. “I usually insist that I should be sold the pack from inside. The reason is that most of the ones displayed in front of the shop might have been out there in the sun for donkey hours. You never can tell what has been happening to them.
“When you touch such products, you discover how hot they are. Some of the packs appear as if the water has been boiled and packed. Yes, it has been said that we need to be boiling our water before drinking it, but what would anyone say about those soft drinks and other beverages that are left in the sun for days and weeks before they are sold? One can imagine what happens to such products. Could they perhaps be dangerous to health when they are consumed? These are things we need to know so that relevant health authorities will save us from possible health hazards.”
A retail shop owner in Ijesha, Surulere, Lagos who did not want her name mentioned told Daily Sun that there were no dangers in exposing wares to the sun, contending that if the articles were not that exposed, how would the customers see them to buy?
“There is possibly no danger in doing that,” she said. “I have been working as a retail shop owner for years. Even long before I came here, I had a shop in Lawanson area where I sold water and drinks.
“I don’t think that I’m the only one. Every retail shop owner who sells water or drinks displays them in the open. It is unfortunate that sometimes, they have to be in the rain or in the sun. But if one does not display them in the open, where else would they be? How would the customers see them to buy?
“Sometimes when we keep the goods inside the shop, it is because we don’t want to be having issues with either the greedy local government officials or operatives of the Lagos State outfit, Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), who often come to raid us.”
But Lawrence, a trader in the same neighbourhood and a patent medicine dealer admitted that it might be harmful to expose for too long most things members of the public ingest.
“I don’t know what happens to water and drinks in particular, but I’m aware that exposing drugs in the sun is dangerous. It is equally bad to store drugs in an environment whose temperature exceeds the tolerable degree. That is why it is particularly specified that some drugs should be stored under certain temperature conditions.”
Pointing to the roof of his shop, he said: “You can see that I had to deliberately construct an improvised ceiling with these carton materials to shield and protect the drugs here from heat, particularly in this season when everywhere is hot.
“When I close for the day and shut the door, the temperature is bound to rise highly. This can affect the potency of the drugs. That too can cause the drugs to expire earlier than the recommended time.
“Even in the day, I use some of the disused carton materials to shield the drugs in the display box so that the heat of the sun will not affect the drugs in them,” he said.
A community pharmacist, Mr. Damian Izuka, who is a fellow of the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Society, said that the practice of exposing drugs in particular and other liquids to the sun could be dangerous and harmful in every sense.
“On the package of the average drug or drink, some storage condition is specified. What that means is that when one stores a product outside its recommended temperature condition, for sure one is not doing such products any good. I also want to believe that this applies to every other consumable.
“Of course when things that are supposed to be stored away from the sun are subjected to the sun, there is bound to be all sorts of bio degradation of that product.
“By bio degradation, we mean that the sun, through the heat it produces, starts a different kind of chemical reaction in the same product.
“In ordinary chemical reaction, one can combine Product A with Product B and nothing will happen. But as soon as one injects some amount of heat into the chain, one instantly gets Product C.
“So when one gets some of these products that might not be very stable, as soon as one moves away from the friendly temperature range, the next thing one gets is a different product definitely which will be doing a job far different from what the original product was meant for. That can be dangerous to health.
“The consequences of exposing drugs in particular to heat are many. In the first place, one succeeds in changing the job that the product is supposed to be doing. When one gives out such drug to a patient, one is as good as having given out something else.
“One thing about chemical substances is that they are what they are under specified conditions, most importantly temperature. Once one begins to move them away to a different temperature environment, it is like setting them on fire. One ends up either completely destroying the primary ingredients it contains or generating something that is unknown. And once one takes the new chemical compound to the laboratory what one will see will be amazing: strangers inside the product.”
He maintained that the way out was to ensure that the regulators were up and doing in ensuring that the right things were done.
“They must ensure that on each product people buy, the temperature condition under which it should be stored is clearly stated since we live in the tropics. Whoever goes out to violate that is destroying the essential fabric of the society and as such must be called to order.
“Sometimes when we try to call attention to this, we are misunderstood. When someone is thirsty and perhaps hungry, for instance, and wants to take some sugar to energise himself, but ends up having soft stool, it means that the fellow has brought a problem to his system.
“Every product that is not stored properly should be condemned. We must continue to say this, even when it might not be making the right impact now. But the fact remains that one does not need to be told by a professional that when one exposes even the yam we all eat in the sun for a period exceeding the normal temperature, something different will happen.
“So, we do not need to let any liquid or soluble things that we ingest have direct contact with the sun; one will not be doing such product any good.
“The heat of the sun is just one element. There are other elements in the sun’s rays that do not need to have contact with most things we have to ingest,” he stated.
SON battles fake products at Lagos markets
…Seizes expired tyres, cylinders, cables
By Job Osazuwa
Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has declared total war on the sale of substandard products in Lagos. The organisation noted that the use of expired gas cylinders, tyres and electrical cables are disasters waiting to happen.
The Lagos State chapter of the organisation recently raided some markets and shops on Lagos Island. The exercise was coordinated by the state coordinator, Ugbaja Joseph. According to him, the aim of the raid was to sanitise the markets by ridding them of substandard and fake products.
Accompanied by armed mobile policemen, officials of SON stormed the busy markets and combed the shops. Expired tyres, cylinders and electric cables found were packed into a waiting lorry.
Joseph told Daily Sun that the raid was a periodic exercise carried out to ensure that Nigerians were safe and to also advise the unsuspecting public not to patronise any of such goods even if they appear cheaper.
He said since the National Assembly had mandated the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to ensure that tyres in use are not expired, the need to regularly check the lifespan of tyres sold in the market had become non-negotiable for SON.
He said the exercise was designed to be carried out periodically, but added that such raids could also come up at the instance of consumers’ complaints to the organisation.
“When we receive reports on suspected fake or substandard products in the market, we swing into action. In this case, we don’t have to wait till the end of the quarter to act. The frequency is determined by the number of feelers we get from consumers,” he said.
He said SON was this time focusing on used tyres, expired gas cylinders and fake electrical cables. He classified such products as life-threatening. He said the owners of shops displaying such expired products would be handed over to the organisation’s legal department for necessary action.
He lamented that Nigerian businessmen were too desperate to make profit at the expense of human lives.
“We are not supposed to be a stumbling block to free flow of goods in and outside the country. But we ensure that we track these products if they are not healthy to humans. Any item that poses danger to lives, we destroy them outright.
“It is unfortunate that many Nigerians still patronise these products just to cut cost. For example, if a new tyre is sold for N25, 000, the used one could go for N5, 000. But when it results in an accident, they won’t think of the financial burden, which might run into millions of naira, and deaths in some cases. We will continue to raid and discourage such life-threatening businesses because some businessmen are simply after the profit they will make at the end of any transaction. Whether 100 people die later is none of their business. But the society must not continue like that if we have to march to progress and that is why we are here,” Joseph said.
The director explained that the lifespan of tyres shouldn’t be more than four years while that of cooking gas cylinders must not exceed five years. He said though electrical cables made in Nigeria were of good quality, some dubious businessmen go ahead to purchase used cables from companies and thereafter sell them to the unsuspecting public.
The market areas the team visited were Okesuma, Lewis, Hawley and Simpson Streets. At Lewis Street, cooking gas cylinders as old as 16 years were discovered and seized from a shop.
All the shops raided by the organisation were sealed and letters served on them to report at its office.
Most of other shop owners who also sold used tyres abandoned their shops as soon as the SON’s team approached them and quickly took to their heels.
Shops were also raided on Hawley Street, but most of the sellers of suspected expired tyres had got wind of SON’s presence and locked their shops, consequently denying the men access to inspect the products.
Simpson Street was also visited, but most of the products inspected were up to standard.
When asked why the organisation was not focusing on dealing with the manufacturers rather than the retailer, he explained that it was not possible for a producer to produce an expired tyre. He said the product could expire in the retailer’s shop over time.
“We monitor them always. I tell you that the tyres and cables manufactured in Nigeria are good ones because we test them. But some people get used cables from companies and sell them to members of the public.
“People still sell tyres that were manufactured 12 years ago and Nigerians buy them. All used tyres are dangerous. There are cooking gas cylinders that have been in the market for the past 20 years. If a cylinder of 12kg explodes, it is capable of bringing down a two-storey building. We go to raid them from time to time but the people want to cut corner all the time. The exercise is an on-going thing because it is our duty to let Nigerians know these things.
To ensure that fake and expired products are not imported into the country, Joseph said SON has various measures for quality control. He lamented that dubious businessmen still have a way to smuggle in those products, reinstating that the organisation would not relent in its effort.
He urged members of the public to always report any suspected fake products to the organisation, assuring them that their identity would be protected.
The coordinator said the war could only be won when members of the public supply the organisation useful information and also desist from patronising dangerous products.