By Taiyee N. Quenneh
Tupee Myers and Alpha Ashong were best friends. They were inseparable in every meaning of the word. They attended church together and did the normal things you would expect from young adults just graduating from high school. The promise of attending AME University was lost on a breezy Friday morning in May 2008, when the decomposing bodies of Tupee Myers 22 and Alpha Ashong 20 were discovered by a neighbor in Alpha’s apartment in the Kendeja neighborhood of Paynesville.
In the hallway of the apartment was a portable Tiger generator that appeared to have cut off by itself after the generator ran out of fuel. Tupee Myers and Alpha Ashong reportedly died from carbon-monoxide poisoning.
On August 6, 2011, Mr. Alahaji Kromah, a professor at the University of Liberia, and one time leader of the defunct rebel group ULIMO-K, barely survived carbon-monoxide poisoning in Lofa. His “send-for go-for” (security guard) was not so lucky. He died. Apparently, a portable generator was left running in the house while they both fell asleep.
On September 24, 2011, an explosion destroyed a home in the Bend & Stop Community in Bardnersville that left 27 family members homeless. An estimated $75,000 worth of personal property was lost. Again, the culprit was a portable Tiger generator.
Just a few weeks ago, Clara Freeman came home from work to a scene no one has to endure. She found her three children and a grandchild dead. Next to the corpses in the hallway was a Tiger generator that was still running, and ejecting the deadly gas that took the lives of Clara Freeman’s children.
These are just few examples that are reported in the media. There are countless other incidences of carbon-monoxide poisoning and deaths that go unreported. Notwithstanding, one would think it should be alarmingly clear in the halls of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare that an intervention strategy is urgently needed to avert these preventable deaths. It is not too late for the Ministry to attempt the following measures:
· Start a public awareness campaign on the dangers of keeping generators in living quarters while they are on. Billboards, radio, print, and electronic media should serve as primary medium for public awareness. The schools (elementary, junior and senior high) should be used for long-term message diffusion.
Generator vendors should be required to label generators with a large and legible label that will say, for example, “THIS MACHINE WILL KILL YOU WHEN TURNED ON IN THE HOUSE,” in plain and simple Liberian English.
· The Ministry of Health should collaborate with the Ministry of Public Works and the Monrovia City Corporation to craft regulations that will require landlords to build secure generator housing. Encourage the use of battery-operated carbon-monoxide detectors in single family and rental homes. The alarm on the detectors can awaken anyone no matter how deeply the person is asleep. The cost of a single carbon-monoxide detector is about $24.00 USD on average. Generator vendors can be mandated to bundle the sale of the detectors with the generator.
These steps may not solve the entirety of the health risks pose by portable generators. However, they are steps that will help the general public understand the health implications and hazards of using portable generators in living quarters.
Taiyee Quenneh is a Doctoral student in Public Health – Epidemiology. He lives in Dacula, Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org