NAKURU, KENYA: A lush green kitchen garden tactfully fenced off with rugged asbestos roofing material stands in a homestead in the sprawling Flamingo slum estate in Nakuru.
Across the street on the busy road that leads to Lake Nakuru National Park are a number of makeshift shops and food kiosks lining the road, also built with old pieces of asbestos that once served as roofing material.
Although the ban on asbestos, which is linked to cancer, was imposed by the Government in 2006, it might take another 10 years for the county to fully rid itself of the material.
“Asbestos is cheap and we can access it easily," said James Kariuki, a shop owner.
"We buy it at Sh50 from the local residents, who keep it whenever their roofing is replaced with iron sheets by the county government. The material is left for the locals, who sell it to whoever wants it."
He said the material used to build his makeshift kiosk cost only Sh6,000, a cheaper option than buying iron sheets, which he estimates would have cost him Sh18,000.
However, Mr Kariuki lacks knowledge on the dangers of asbestos. All he knows is that the material is a cheap, readily available alternative for roofing.
“I am only three years old here and have been using this material all along. I do not know the hazards but after all, life is about taking risks since death will finally catch up with us,” Kariuki said.
Lack of knowledge on the dangers of using asbestos, coupled with poor disposal by the county government in its quest to implement the ban by replacing the roofing, has worsened matters and left residents exposed to health hazards.
“Residents here are not aware of any health hazards and most use asbestos to build houses, chicken coops and makeshift food kiosks while others use it for fencing because it is at the disposal of the locals,” said Partick Mukanda.
According to James Wakibia, an environmental activist, hammering asbestos releases dangerous particles that could later affect residents.
“The county should have worked on the disposal of asbestos instead of leaving the disposal to residents. Sadly, they pick it up and re-use it. Hammering or even breaking such as by use of saws releases very dangerous particles that are cancer-causing,” said Mr Wakibia.
County Director for Housing Maroke Maina admitted that the disposal of asbestos remained a challenge following lax enforcement laws.
According to Mr Maina, lack of expertise on disposal by contractors as well as poor enforcement have contributed to extensive use of asbestos, even after removal.
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He said the material was supposed to be taken to a county disposal yard in Kivumbini for safe disposal.
“The material was supposed to be taken to the county yard for disposal but contractors have not been doing so.
"They instead reported being threatened by the residents. This is a situation we blame on enforcement officers who fail to take control,” he said.
However, regulations stated by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) on asbestos disposal say it should be buried in the ground and encased in cement to prevent it from seeping into the ground and contaminating the soil and possibly water aquifers.
Maina said implementation of the disposal project was challenging and required a collaborative process involving both the Government and Nema as well as stringent laws on enforcement.
Studies on the dangers of asbestos reveal that countries with a history of production and consumption showed a high incidence of asbestos-related diseases and pronounced levels of asbestosparticles in the environment.
A 2006 study by the International Conference on Health, Environment and Justice, revealed that asbestos dust can easily travel through the air into the water supply system.
While cancer researchers reveal that working in old buildings with ageing and decomposing asbestos materials can increase the risk of lung cancer, a number of residents in the county still live in rugged, asbestos-roofed houses.
Maina said the process of removing the material could take another 10 years and required more than Sh500 million to replace the ageing roofs in residential houses.
“With the current rate, the replacement of asbestos roofing will require over Sh500 million to replace county rental houses in Molo, Njoro, Naivasha and Nakuru towns,” he said.
Water piping systems that were put up during that time still use asbestos pipes, according to the Nakuru Water Sewerage and Sanitation Company (Nawassco).
“The company is currently using the Sh300 million grant from a German company to replace the asbestos piping system,” said Nawassco Director James Ng’anga.