Thomson Reuters Foundation wrote:Thieves fry Kenya's power grid to cook fast food
The morning scene is increasingly routine for Kenyans. When it's time to start the day, the power is already out. Somewhere nearby, the shell of a wrecked electrical transformer lies on its side underneath the pole where it had been fixed 20 feet off the ground.
The culprit is an unusual one: A vandal who is selling the toxic oil, drawn from the transformer, to chefs who use it for frying food in roadside stalls. Five liters of the viscous, PCB-laden liquid sells for $60. It looks like cooking oil, but lasts much longer, users say.
Kenyans' appetite for fried food and cheap frying oil is stalling the country's urgent efforts to build a modern electrical grid, even as it sews the seeds of a public health crisis, experts say.
And with utility companies reporting similar vandalism across East Africa and as far away as South Africa and Nigeria, the crime spree is becoming another thorn in ambitious plans to electrify Africa.
Within hours of the power going out, transformer oil can end up on the street, where it creates another health and environmental problem because it contains highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The United States banned PCBs in 1979.
"Consumption of PCB-laden chips poses a health risk to Kenyans in a country where health services are already underfunded and doctors are in short supply," said Dr. Esther Maina a biochemist at the University of Nairobi. But use of the oil is so widespread that she, herself, got sick from it when she bought chips at a roadside stand.
Kenya Power, the firm that distributes power in Kenya, is now thinking about building transformers that don't use oil. Such transformers are not widely used and cost about half again as much as ones that do use oil.