How serious is water pollution from chemicals in Kenya and what can be done about it?
There has not been much research done in Africa about the occurrence of chemical pollutants but now this is starting to change. Three researchers from the University of Nairobi and UFZ in Germany presented recent research on chemical pollution in Kenyan water bodies and discussed governance challenges at a recent FRAM Centre webinar. The ambition is to start a long-term collaboration.
Nobody really knows how much organic micropollutants there are in African countries. This is of course serious since its the home of a billion people and many unique plants and animal species. However, during the last couple of years, serious water pollution in Kenya has made the news headlines. The Athi-river running through Nairobi was branded "the River of Death".
So, how serious is water pollution from chemicals in Kenya?
Dr. Faith Kandie started the seminar by showing a map of the number of pharmaceuticals found in surface and ground water globally. The map showed that a lot of data collecting has been done in developed countries but the data is limited in Africa.
- We need more research to narrow this knowledge gap, said Dr. Kandie.
In her PhD work, she decided to focus on this. Kandie conducted a project named "Occurrence and risk assessment of organic micropollutants within the Lake Victoria South Basin, Kenya".
One of her finding was that bio-accumulation and secondary pollution is both a problem for human health and for animals. One example of this is that chemical compounds was found in snails - that are eaten by birds - that are then eaten by humans and other species. The chemicals are transferred from one species to another and are added on top of each other.
Prof. James Mbaria presented a study from 2019 on identifying and quantifying the levels of pollutants in the Lake Victoria South Basin. Samples were taken from the rivers drain into Lake Victoria, from the beaches, and from sediments and fish.
Severe pollution of the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria was documented. The microbiological analysis showed levels of bacteria that indicated fecal contamination. The chemical analysis showed seven heavy metals (including mercury, lead and arsenic) with levels above recommendation for drinking water. Also, 21 - 33 different types of pesticides were detected in the different samples - even ones that are forbidden since many years.
- The sources of pollutants is mainly human activities, said Prof. Mbaria.
The third invited speaker, Dr. Collins Odote, highlighted that effective legal and institutional framework is necessary for preventing chemical pollution. Dealing with multiple laws and conflicting provisions is critical. Also, according to Dr. Odote, there are poor links between law and science. Another issue he presented was the importance of international collaboration to address chemicals from source countries to avoid importing banned and hazardous chemicals.
To conclude, more comprehensive studies on the pollution are necessary. It will therefore be very interesting to follow the results from new case study in Lake Victoria - a collaboration between the University of Nairobi and the FRAM Centre.
Dr. Kandie hopes that the collaboration can give Kenyan researchers better knowledge about analyse methods and better lab equipment. Dr. Odote added the importance of not only collaborating on the research level but also from research to policy.
The webinar was arranged by the FRAM Centre for Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies on the 21st of January 2021.
Dr. Faith Kandie is based at the Effect-Directed Analysis department at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research-UFZ Leipzig and enrolled at Goethe University, Frankfurt. Her research focuses on the multi-compartment occurrence of organic micropollutants and their contribution to schistosomiasis prevalence in western Kenya. Faith is continuously involved in collaborative projects between Germany and Kenyan partners to narrow the knowledge gap on organic micropollutants in Kenyan aquatic ecosystems.
Prof. James M. Mbaria is a holder of PhD in Pharmacology & Toxicology and is currently the Chairman of the Department of Public Health, Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Nairobi. He has extensive knowledge, skills and experience in discipline pharmacology and toxicology. Professor Mbaria serves in numerous committees locally, regionally and internationally. He is a Trustee and member of the Toxicology Society of Kenya (TSOK). He has been involved formulation and implementation of guidelines for the regulation of medicinal use and pest control products. Prof Mbaria is a Council Member of Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) Council and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Focal Point for Veterinary Medicinal Products in Kenya. Prof Mbaria is greatly involved in provision of academic leadership, consultancy and research activities. He published over 120 scholarly articles in refereed journals, learning modules, book chapters and scholarly presentations.
Dr. Collins Odote is an environmental lawyer and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He currently serves at the Institution as the Director for the centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP), a multi-disciplinary and postgraduate teaching and research unit. He has researched and written widely on various environmental governance issues. He was the lead researcher for FRAM-University of Nairobi scoping study on Scoping and Impacts of Multiple Chemical Pollution on Kenya’s Lake Victoria.