I once stumbled upon a sterling article by Dr Festus Mwangi highlighting the plight of children living with cancer.

Though it was written in 2017, its message still resonates audibly with me.

Not only did he highlight about the increase in instances of childhood cancers but also about the lack of awareness especially among the poorest of the poor.

More often than not, parents assume symptoms and dismiss them for minor infections only for the discovery of a tumor to be made when it’s too late.

Cancer is real among children.

But beyond genetics, we must seek to smoke out some of the other factors that may increase risk among children.

And key among them are environmental factors such as pollution.


Though this Nairobi neighborhood provokes images of a struggle to eke out a living, Kibra is a home of champions.

Why champions?

Simply because people in this neighborhood rise up against all odds to make ends meet.

Not only will we find women selling their wares but men going on with their hustle.

But beneath this seemingly normal life lies several struggles .

Economic conditions make life hard for these hardworking Kenyans in more ways than we could imagine.

Not only is there rampant unemployment, but access to amenities such as clean water is a mirage to many.

The poorest of the poor end up depending on surrounding water sources some of which are compromised by pollutants.

So what does all this have to do with childhood cancer?


This sizeable water body was designed to store water for Nairobi residents.

However, due to the growth of the urban sprawl, it has all of a sudden converted into a body of wastewater taking in all sorts of discharges from the surrounding Kibra neighborhood.

So the first thing one notices upon nearing Nairobi dam are the hyacinths and algal growths that have nearly choked it.

But that’s a far cry from the invisible toxic metallic discharges being released into this water system day by day.

A nearby water body seems attractive to neighboring small industries simply because it’s an easy way of getting rid of dirt.

But why make a fuss about water pollutants?

After all, aren’t we all exposed?

Well the answer is yes.

However not everyone of us is exposed at the same level.

Others (especially those living in neighborhoods like Kibra) are over-exposed simply because of the environment they live in and here’s why…

In 2014, two researchers from Kenyatta University unearthed useful information about the extent of pollution in Nairobi Dam.

In this instant, their focus was on toxic heavy metals.

In their findings, the concentration of two toxic metals stood out: Lead and Cadmium with concentrations of about 16mg/l and 5mg/l respectively.

In many ways this info resembled mere numbers to be fed into an SPSS program during a normal data analysis exercise.

However, not until they are compared to their global acceptable upper limits do we realize the kind of problem we are in.

Take Lead for instance… It’s maximum acceptable levels in water according to WHO is 0.01mg/l meaning that it’s concentration in sections of this water body is over 1,000 times higher!!

And the script is the same for cadmium.

But what does this mean?

Remember that surrounding communities use this water for drinking and cooking.

This means that nearby families take in a substantial amount of toxic heavy metals without their knowledge through drinking water.

These metals tend to accumulate in organs such as the liver and kidneys besides causing intellectual impairment.

But of concern are kids who are being exposed at such an early age to such toxic stuff.

Isn’t it a surprise that there are increased cases of childhood cancers in this regard?

Take for instance a metal like cadmium which is associated with not less than five types of cancers and is blacklisted by the IARC as a first class carcinogen.

A child being exposed to cadmium-laced water will definitely take a beating in his or her health over the long haul.

But this is just one of the known toxic stories.

How many more exist out there?

The most astonishing thing about this story is that the data was collected over 6 years ago.

If nothing happened during that period of time to remediate the environmental problem, chances are that it’s worse now than it was then.

So I’ll take it upon myself to measure the toxic metal levels in those exact locations within the next one year to see whether there has been a change.


But not only that.

It’s the responsibility of all of us to raise an alarm concerning pollution and its effects on our lives especially those of our kids.

Industrial progress shouldn’t happen at the expense of human life.


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