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Adefolake Adekola: Nigerians are Cooking with Transformer Oil & You May Be at Risk



February 1st, 2015 I sat across the Senior Environmental Specialist of the World Bank (Nigeria) and he explained what a great choice I had made in my field of study. As our conversation gradually came to a close, he casually mentioned what he was working on. “I am currently working on PCBs” . “Nigerians have started using transformer oil to fry food, because it lasts longer.

We are not the only ones, as other African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe etc. have also been doing it. They go as far as going to the transformers to get the oil out. Most of the food vendors that use it in Nigeria go to areas where there is a transformer and pour the left-over from the drums.” He said. I froze, maybe I didn’t hear him well, I thought. Did he just say transformer oil?

To think that he was actually referring to transformer oil that contains PCBs made my stomach churn, anyone familiar with this word would know that it is a danger word.

PCBs are so dangerous and the use was banned in the US in 1979 because of its highly toxic nature, and the risk to the human health and the environment. Polychlorinated Biphenyls popularly called PCBs are organic chlorine compound which are used as lubricants or coolants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment’s. Although PCB transformers are no longer used in most parts of the world, it is still very much present in Nigeria.

PCBs have very high resistance and are known to accumulate and stay long in the environment. It is understandable that a lot of food vendors have bowed to the pressure brought by economic recession, but it is highly unacceptable that they would go as far as using this type of oil to fry. Examples of food items they fry it with in Nigeria are: Bean cake (Akara), Plantain chips, Potato chips, fried yam, and chicken etc.

It is bad enough that most of these food items are sold in dirty environments, but to think that the very oil used is carcinogenic (causes cancer) shows there is a cause for alarm. The physical and chemical properties of transformer oil make it highly undetectable when used, it appears as pale yellow just like the normal vegetable oil and is as vicious. It has no smell or taste and that is why it is easy for it to pass as vegetable oil.

Efforts have been made by several environmental agencies but it is still not enough as thousands consume food items that cause harm to the health of individuals. This is the very reason awareness is very paramount, like the saying goes: better safe than sorry.

Here are some facts about PCBs in transformer oil:

  1. PCBs are man-made chemicals. Made up of about 209 chlorinated compounds ranging from oily liquids to waxy solids
  2. It was banned by the United States Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001
  3. Does not disintegrate easily, thereby, last long in the human body, animals and the environment i.e Bio-accumulation
  4. It is highly carcinogenic
  5. Transformer oil is odorless and non-flammable
  6. Undetectable when mixed with vegetable oil
  7. PCBs are found in contaminated plants, crops and fish
  8. PCBs are commonly found in the brain, fatty tissues, liver and skin of humans contaminated with it
  9. It is transmittable, i.e. from mother to child through breast milk or the placenta
  10. They cause abnormalities in birds, fish and other animals
  11. Nigeria is expected to be in full compliance with the Stockholm Convention by eliminating PCBs by  2025

Health effects of PCBs contamination include:

  1. Fibrosis
  2. Irritation to nose, lungs and skin
  3. Birth effects in babies
  4. Low sperm count
  5. Irregular menstrual cycle
  6. Altered sex organs
  7. Premature puberty
  8. Lowered IQ
  9. Mental development issues
  10. Various types of cancers e.g. thyroid

Although it is always difficult to resist the chicken, kara or fried yam on the road, it is important to be aware of the health consequences of eating just anywhere as you might just be a victim of eating fried food made with transformer oil.

Here’s what you can do to be safe:

  1. Avoid eating fried foods from just anywhere; be sure of their credibility
  2. Buy your vegetable oil from reputable stores
  3. If a certain smell makes you uneasy, it might have been mixed with something else. Don’t eat
  4. If there is a transformer close by, it is highly possible. Don’t eat
  5. Inform your family and friends. Be safe
  6. Be like me! Totally avoid eating fried food from the road side or in contaminated areas

If you see signs indicating the use of transformer oil by food vendors, report to environmental agencies such as LASEPA (Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency)

Photo Credit: Michael Spring | Dreamtime

Adefolake Ayotunde-Salami is a Social Safeguard Consultant on World Bank Assisted Projects. She has a B.Sc, M.Sc and hold numerous certifications. She is also an Independent Consultant for top companies in Nigeria and has work experience in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a book on Amazon and Smashwords titled “Functioning In The Knowledge Of Who You Are” and a website ( where she writes articles based on extensive research. She is a Columnist for Bellanaija, Nigeria's biggest blog and she loves to watch series when she is less busy .  


  1. June

    August 31, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    See, this the BS kind of articles that get my blood boiling. Where is your evidence based on fffffing ground research (e.g. collecting oil samples from food vendors and testing them )and statistics ??????? Pcbs indeed! I am all for choosing wisely what we put in our bodies but please , please , please – do not writing an article based on noooooooooooo research and statistics whatsoever , give us a definition of a chemical and presume without said evidence that food vendors are using this so we should be like you and not eat fried food along with your steps. Do proper research before you spread panic based on such a silly article. Pissed!

    • Manny

      August 31, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      I agree. This is very lazy writing. No-one is saying this doesn’t happen, but give us sources and evidence to back it up. On what scale is it being carried out? I doubt that PHCN is replacing stolen oil in transformers.

      @mrs chidukane it’s not improbable. For instance, in the case of Kenya, you can read about it in this Al-jazeera article “Thieves fry Kenya’s power grid for fast food.” Also in Zimbabwe, google fastfood-outlets-join-scramble-for-transformer-oil/. I’m sure it happens in Nigeria too

    • ND babe

      September 1, 2017 at 3:35 am

      Would this explain the kidney failures in the country? I have been wondering why kidney failure is now like malaria in Nigeria. Bobrisky, you see what is happening to you has explanation? WHY ARE NIGERIANS SO SO SO WICKED?

  2. June

    August 31, 2017 at 3:04 pm


  3. Vee

    August 31, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I’m just here wondering how Iya Basira goes to a transformer to get oil for her cooking……

  4. Muse

    August 31, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    What’s the difference between the oil majority of us use in our homes and the one iya ondo uses to fry akara and dundun? The branding or what? Transformer oil ko, transformation oil ni.

  5. mrs chidukane

    August 31, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    how does one get oil from as transformer? What’s if you’re taking it and NEPA brings light? I don’t understand? This is highly improbable though. You need more people.

  6. Ephi

    August 31, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    No single evidence and you are writing this kind of alarmist article? Abeg, don’t let me vex.

  7. LO

    September 1, 2017 at 2:46 am

    Common. They are bloggers not investigative journalists. In the real world, this will generate enough buzz for govt or trad media to investiage and do an expose on the issue.

    About how Iya Basira goes about using transformed oil or whatnot. To be honest, Shen might not know what she has, just that Mr Williams has been able to source vegetable oil at a huge discount 50% or so but has been told to keep it on the DL because of some plausible reason like it is being imported illegally.

    Do I believe this without any shred of doubt? No

    Has this article reminded me to be more mindful of unregulated street food? Yes

    • June

      September 1, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Read about the author of this silly article :
      “About Adefolake Adekola
      a Qualified Health Safety Environment Officer with a credible talent of providing detailed audit reports required for preventive and corrective measure to ensure health safety environment and security. ”
      There is nothing detailed and audited about this article! Golden Rule ??? ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH! it goes for “bloggers ” as well. This article vex me pass

    • Vee

      September 2, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Exactly my point, unless someone or a group of people (which there’s no evidence of) is selling this oil to the public at reduced price,this article is unbelievable. People don’t just go close to transformers to pick things

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