Miracle oil

Miracle oil

MASERU-THE Lesotho Electricity Corporation (LEC) is worried about the continued use of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) oil in medicinal concoctions by traditional healers, warning of fatal consequences.
PCBs are highly toxic industrial compounds.

They pose serious health risks to fetuses, babies and children, who may suffer developmental and neurological problems from prolonged or repeated exposure to small amounts of PCBs, according to the Environmental Defence Fund magazine, Seafood Selector.
PCBs are chemical substances that have been commercially produced and sold as pure oil or in equivalent form from around 1929.

They are extremely stable compounds with excellent electrical insulation and heat transfer properties.
Despite a 2004 global ban, PCB oil is still found in the country. The LEC still has 14 of its transformers with these oils, while a 15th one belongs to the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC).

Officials from the LEC expressed worry over the use of the oils during a workshop it held for traditional healers in Maseru on Monday.
According to LEC Risk Manager, Matšeliso Moremoholo, PCBs were regarded as “good insulators and gave transformers dialectic strength” before 1976.

“Safe disposal is expensive and it is usually done in Europe,” she said.
She said PCBs were listed as health hazards in the Stockholm Convention (a treaty aimed at human health protection against Persistent Organic Pollutants) which was adopted 2001, Sweden. She said Lesotho ratified the treaty in 2002.

Moremoholo said risks of PCBs include cancers, immune effects, reproductive effects, neurological effects, endocrine effects and other non-cancer effects.
“We committed as it is a global call to see to it that PCB is removed like in other countries. I think 2025 will arrive long after we have already removed them,” she said.

The LEC Environment Officer, Mosili Sehobai, said they had travelled countrywide looking for transformers with PCB oil.
“One of the challenges when looking for samples was accessing the transformers,” she said.
She said that of the 15 identified transformers “eight are still in use and seven are decommissioned”.

“We are raising awareness, starting with traditional healers and NGOs, fill legislation gaps, prepare for elimination and eliminate,” she said.
Traditional healer, Bilomo Malebapo, called for more action and less talk to save lives.
“Usually there is more talk than enforcement. All stakeholders should work hand in hand to eliminate it,” Malebapo said.

Another traditional healer, Matela Hlakametsa, said he was concerned about lack of consultation by the LEC.
“I am surprised the draft is at the law office awaiting parliamentary approval without our inclusion… knowing very well we use PCB and mercury,” he said.

“I wonder how they managed to decide on this and this makes our work very difficult,” he said.
“In this case the ministry just informed us of the dangers yet they haven’t discussed this with us from the beginning. None of us was involved until now,” he said.
He said chances are traditional healers would continue using the oil if government continued sidelining them in the decision-making process.

“We will still get it from people who have it regardless of whether it is legal or not,” he said, adding that he didn’t know about the side effects of the oil.
Mopheme Mokoena, another healer, said many healers used the oil.
He said he learnt of its dangers from his grandfather.
“We used it in our herbs but not for consumption as he taught me that it affects people badly,” he said.

Mokoena said he is yet to decide on whether to continue using the oil or not.
“I am still exploring their substitution as this is my way of living, I haven’t decided on its replacement,” said Mokoena.
’Mampilolo, who used mercury during her youth, said her mother-in-law advised her to bath with mercury while pregnant.

“The explanation was I was protecting myself and the child against goblins,” ’Mampilolo said.
She said when she was experiencing labour pains her mother-in-law used it on her.
“It didn’t take long for me to deliver my baby. I couldn’t even make it to the hospital,” she said.
She said her experience was generational as she also passed it to her daughter.

However, she said she wasn’t aware of the side effects.
“I have mixed emotions about this because I believe it helped me as advised but then what is being said is scary.”
On the other hand, senior environmental officer ministry of Tourism Kobeli Tšasanyane, raised awareness about the dangers of mercury, noting that it can be found in dumpsites, hospitals, incinerators, paint, coal and batteries, crematoria.
He said mercury was dangerous for unborn babies.

’Mapule Motsopa

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