Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Diwali, Crackers, Chemicals and the Ozone Layer

The festival of lights Deepawali is again with us. I have this feeling deep down within me that we should seriously look at renaming this festival. It should now be called Patekeawali(with the number of crackers that are exploded) or Paiseawali(with the amount of money which is spend, some wisely and a lot unwisely), or it could be called Daruawali or Kharidawali with the amount of liquor which is consumed or the amount of purchases an average family makes.

In Deepawali it is the crackers which affect me the most. They affect me both at a physically as well as the emotionally level. Every time a cracker is lit I think of the money going up in smoke. Money that could be utilized for a poor child’s education. Besides the money it is the environment and the health angle that disturbs me a lot. Here’s why …….

Chemicals Found in Crackers and their affect on Health

Cadmium
Causes increased blood pressure and a disease “Itai – Itai” which makes bones brittle and lead to multiple fractures.
Can damage kidneys and cause anemia

Lead
Affects central nervous system
Cancer of lungs and kidneys
Young children can suffer mental retardation and semi permanent brain damage.

Nitrite
Nausea, vomiting, cyanosis, collapse and coma
Fall in blood pressure, rapid pulse, headaches and visual disturbances

Nitrare
Large amounts lead to dizziness, abdominal cramps, vomiting. bloody diarrhoea, weakness, convulsions and collapse.
Increased cancer incidents

Sulphur
Affects upper respiratory tract and bronchi.
May cause edema of the lungs.
Can produce respiratory paralysis

Magnesium
Particles embedded in the skin can produce gaseous blebs and gas gangrene.
Deterioration in the central nervous system.
Main Symptoms of exposure : Sleepiness, weakness, emotional disturbances and paralysis.

Phosphorous in PO4
Affects central nervous system
Acute effect on liver
Severe eye damage

Copper
Irritation in respiratory tract
Excess absorption causes “ Wilson’s disease” where excess copper is deposited in the brain, skin, liver, pancreas and middle muscular layer of the heart.

Zinc
Skin irritant
Effects pulmonary system
Stimulates the sensation of vomiting.

Suspended particulate matter (SPM) exposure to the level of 100 ppm results in headache and reduced mental acuity. The effects are more pronounced in people with heart, lung or central nervous system diseases. Sulphur dioxide is readily soluble and dissolves in the larger airways of the respiratory system. This stimulates a contraction at 2 to 5 parts per million (ppm). At higher concentrations severe contraction restricts the breathing process.

Noise :High decibel level results in restlessness, anger, fidgetiness, impulsive behaviour and over-reaction to situations. Most crackers used have more than 80 dB noise that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleep disturbances. Children, pregnant women and those suffering from respiratory problems suffer the most due to excessive noise. It results in making them hyperactive or withdrawn.

To study the chemical composition, particularly of metallic and non-metallic components of crackers, Toxics Link got some samples of sparklers ("phuljari" in Hindi and "mathappu" in Tamil) and pots ("anar" in Hindi and "pusvanam" in Tamil) analysed at the Bombay Natural History Society Laboratory, Mumbai. The following were the chief findings of the laboratory tests.

The results showed presence of highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead in addition to other metals like copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium in the fire-crackers.

· Both nitrates and nitrites of few of these metals were present. Both these radicals are oxidising agents that are a ready source of oxygen in the process of combustion.
· Oxides of sulphur in the form of sulphate and phosphorous in the form of phosphate were present in the samples. The mean levels of cadmium in the crackers analysed were 5.2 mg/100g. Anar and wire showed 6 and 8mg/100g, respectively.
· The mean level of lead was 462 mg/100g with a maximum in green sparkle showing 850mg/100g. Magnesium was found in huge quantities when compared to other metals like copper, manganese and zinc. The mean levels of magnesium was 2622mg/100g and of copper was 744mg/100g. Zinc was the least among the various metals detected with a mean level of 324mg/100g.
· Four acidic radicals --nitrate, nitrite, phosphate and sulphate-- were also detected. The proportion of nitrite, phosphate and sulphate in the crackers was almost similar and ranged between 1160 to 1420 mg/100gm, while nitrates which are strong oxidising agents, were found in considerable amounts when compared to the other three. Their mean levels were 1624mg/100g.
· Among these, oxides of sulphur, phosphorous and nitrogen are very corrosive and highly acidic while carbon monoxide, one of the oxides of carbon is an extremely poisonous gas whose presence cannot be detected by our sensory system as it is odorless.
· Carbon monoxide combines more than 200 times as readily as oxygen, so that low concentration levels have adverse health effects.

So guys burn not only your pockets, the ozone layer but also your heart, lungs and kidneys as mine are anyway in smoke.

Happy Deepawali

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