Saturday, November 15, 2008


Yes, we can!

After the American elections a lot has been said, discussed and written with respect to India. A lot of people have lamented the state of affairs in India and wishfully wondered when will we have our own Obama - the one who will provide us hope and a message for change.

My reply to all such people is to read today’s newspapers: “INDIA TOUCHES THE MOON”. The 35-kg Moon Impact Probe touched the lunar surface at 8.31 pm on 14 November 2008. A true gift to the children of the world with Children’s Day being celebrated in India.
For the uninitiated, this is truly an inspirational and momentous moment for mankind. India did it right the first time – not a mean feat even by the best standards. This is from a nation categorized as ‘developing’ with the highest number of malnourished children in the world; a nation that was deprived of technology as some countries felt the world was being threatened due to our atomic testing. This is from a nation of immeasurable diversity – diversity that, some feel, poses a threat to the nation’s growth, and these people would rather every Indian follow a single religion and way of life. With all its encumbrances, the nation has been able to send Chandrayaan-1 through an astronomical distance of over 3 lac km. A number of people have been involved through its various stages – scientists, engineers, technicians, teachers, motivators, programmers, operators, invisible people plus one ex-President – people who lost sleep due to nervousness, people who lent support to the sleepless to forge on! Together, they could!

We are a nation so steeped in history... A lot of the young I have interacted with say they feel proud of the achievements in history. On the other hand, they are cynical about the present and are unwilling to lend a hand to creating their own history. A lot of them simple state they are proud without knowing exactly what gives them this lofty feeling – perhaps, the ‘proud’ feeling is handed down as cultural heritage. Well to all of them out there, let this be a day when the world says if anything is possible in the world, it is here in India! This is an event that makes every Indian proud.

Chandrayaan is not just about a probe landing on the moon - it is about hope, ability to surmount challenges and change for the better. We have our own Obamas here within us and for once, we don’t need to stand on the sidelines cheering for somebody else but our own.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The solar powered rickshaw

A lot of people criticise the cycle rickshaw as an inhuman colonial legacy. Delhi authorities banned them from Chandni Chowk in 2006, saying that they clogged the streets. Others feel that the cycle rickshaw provides cheap, eco-friendly transport for hundreds of millions of Indians every day.

My friend Rozita sent me an article on “The Soleckshaw” which was an eye-opener. I often wonder that in a country where science and technology date back to the ancient times (archaeological evidence from Mehrgarh (7000 BCE) shows construction of mud brick houses and granaries, Farming, metal working, flint knapping, tanning, bead production, and dentistry while the more advanced Indus Valley civilization yields evidence of hydrography, metrology and sewage collection and disposal ) we still seem to be lost and grope for solutions which stare us in our face.

On the one hand we delve into history to thump our chests for our past (and lost) greatness and on other, we ignore devices and everyday ways of living that have stood the test of time. We want to import new systems from other countries just because they look grand or have succeeded there. Little do we understand our own country and its diversity.

Well this Soleckshaw is the humble rickshaw we see everyday just about everywhere in India. The prototype seats three persons and has electric lights, a maximum speed of 12½ mph, and extra frills like an FM radio and four separate mobile phone chargers(!!) It can also drive uphill. It is designed to ease the physical burden on the rickshaw-puller, of whom there are an estimated eight million, and who are mostly migrants from the poorest states.

The Government, which is backing the project, hopes that it will help to reduce air pollution and wean the country off fossil fuels. It will serve as the natural migration route from the manual rickshaws (autoricks work on fossil fuels, therefore are undesirable). If successful, it will be used during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi

The Soleckshaw was developed by the state-run Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in conjunction with Crompton Greaves, an Indian company that designed its electric engine. To introduce it nationwide, they are now working with the Centre for Rural Development (CRD), a non-governmental organisation that has been assisting cycle rickshaw pullers for years.

The most important thing is that it will reduce the drudgery for India’s rickshaw drivers and give them some dignity as well as reduce effects of global warming by reducing greenhouse gases.

The Soleckshaw costs Rs 22,000 compared to Rs 8,500 for a traditional one. That should come down to 20,000 rupees once mass production of 200-300 a month begins in two to three months time, officials say. CRD also plans to guarantee loans for the Soleckshaw drivers so they can purchase their own vehicles and then pay back the loan in daily installments of Rs 30-40. At the moment, most of them pay a daily hire fee of Rs 30-40, sometimes for several years, but never get to own their own rickshaw.

The project’s backers also hope to raise money from carbon credits and advertising on the back of the Soleckshaws.

It is still unclear who will pay for the charging stations — the four test vehicles require 28 small solar panels to charge their batteries and five spares overnight. Nor has it been decided whether drivers will pay for the electricity. This, I guess, is a small issue which I suppose will get sorted out as numbers increase.
So let us salute this desi improvisation and the desi people who thought out of the box and beyond the conventional wisdom of importing videshi technology working somewhere on this planet, spending millions only to find that it was a misfit in Indian conditions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hindus and rivers

Geetika forwarded me this news item about how Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal successfully cleaned the sacred river Kali Bein in Punjab. Even though I had read about this amazing feat some time back, the news item got me thinking.

Ganga, Yamuna, Gomti are all sacred rivers for the Hindus. Some Hindus might not admit it but if we are to look at statistics and the various census results, Hindus are a majority community comprising about 80.5 per cent of the population. As per estimates on 10 March 2008, India is a 1.13-billion strong nation and comprises approximately one-sixth of the world's population. Worldwide, Hindus number about 900 million or 14 per cent of the world population.

Time and again some individuals and organizations, religious and political, shout on the tops of their voices, “Be proud of the fact that you are a Hindu!” But look at the state of our most revered rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Gomti. For a Hindu, I think it is hardly a matter of pride that even as he/she goes about his/her daily tasks, he does so without a thought for what has been done to these rivers. We take life insurance for our future, we save money for our children but are actually intellectually challenged not to understand the fact that without water there is no life and these three rivers supply the bulk of the water to the northern and eastern parts of the country.

Hindus must take ownership for these rivers. Why I use the word ‘Hindu’ time and again is because Hindus are in majority, and it is the privilege of the majority to lead the way. In much the same way as the world looks to the U.S.A. in world matters. Water is the essence of our life and if we still don’t get it, then future generations (if they come) will certainly not be proud of us!

Enclosed below is the news item.
Time magazine describes the environmentalist and holy man from Punjab as "the Sikh who cleans the corrupted rivers of India," listing him among a group of distinguished individuals around the world hailed for their passion and resourcefulness in confronting threats facing the environment
Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal's success in transforming the sacred river Kali Bein, in Punjab, from a filthy drain to a picnic spot has won him a place of honour among Time magazine's 30 environment heroes from around the world.
Other prominent Time environment heroes are Brazil's Marina Silva, godmother of the rain forest, Germany's Joachim Luther, godfather of solar power, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 'green' governor of California, and billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr who funds green projects.
Time describes Baba Seechewal as "the man who set out to clean up the mess" at the Kali Bein that stretches 160 km in Punjab's Hoshiarpur district. The river is sacred to Sikhs as it is linked to Guru Nanak Dev who is believed to have attained enlightenment after taking a dip in it some 500 years ago, before founding Sikhism.
Over the past couple of decades, the Kali Bein had been reduced to a filthy drain due to waste emptied into it by people in six towns and 40 villages along its banks. Parts of the river had dried up, leaving neighbouring farmlands barren. Its polluted waters had also seeped into the ground, contaminating groundwater and spreading disease.
The magazine writes: "In 2000, Seechewal, a Sikh holy man, set out to clean up this mess. Drawing on the Sikh tradition of kar sewa (voluntary service) he and his followers taught locals why they should clean up the Kali Bein, enlisting volunteers to do the physical work and raising funds for equipment… The scale of the task was gigantic -- volunteers cleared the entire riverbed of water hyacinth and silt, and built river banks and roads alongside the river."
At the height of his movement, people from over two dozen villages took part although, in the initial stages, the local government refused to heed his call. Baba Seechewal met with NRIs who took up the cause and raised funds, writes the magazine.
As the riverbed began to be cleared, natural springs revived and the river began to fill up. Since then, trees have been planted along its banks and fishing has been banned to preserve biodiversity. Today, the Kali Bein is a picnic spot for people and devotees who bathe in the river during religious festivals.
Baba Seechewal says he owes his achievements to support from the villagers. He adds: "We are turning our sights on tanneries and other factories that dispose of untreated waste into rivers. It is time to do that on a bigger scale." He is also leading efforts to get residents and the government to clean up rivers and creeks in a more systematic way across the state. "We have proved that it is possible to restore our rivers to pristine condition if we all come together."
The Punjab government is now keen on pursuing all Baba Seechewal's environment projects. Media advisor to the chief minister, Harcharan Bains, said that the state government strongly advocated a "creative synergy" between the state and various environmental and spiritual movements to save precious resources like water and air.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FEstival of Lights : May you burn in peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hazards of Beauty

The other day I picked a copy of DU beat and saw this article on personal products and the harmful chemicals in these products. The article was very poorly done and in the normal course I would have seen it and trashed the newspaper. I am sure if I took a survey of the campus goers about this article, not more than 5% of those who have seen the issue would remember the contents. Anyway I decided to do some more research on this...

The above mentioned article was taken from National Geographic site, 'The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics by Catherine Zandonella, M.P', but that's not the point... The point is that I dug deeper and randomly, picked up some shampoos lying in my own house: Head and Shoulders by P&G, Garnier by L'oreal, Fa by Schwarzkopf & Henkel and Sunsilk by Hindustan Unilever.
Here are a few of my findings:

Head and Shoulders (Procter and Gamble) anti-dandruff shampoo ocean fresh contains :
Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamide MEA, Zinc Carbonate, Fragrance, PEG-7M, Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone etc

What is PEG-7M?
PEG is an abbreviation for Poly-ethylene-glycol. And the -7M means that the molecular weight of the PEG chains is ~7000 daltons. PEG is a water-soluble polymer, or plastic, and it acts as a thickener, making the shampoo more viscous. Basically, though the PEG is soluble in water, the long chains of its molecules get tangled in each other, making the solution viscous and gloopy.
When PEG reacts with Ethylene Oxide it leads to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, various allergies. There are moderate concerns also on organ system toxicity (non-reproductive). It has NOT been assessed for safety by any industry panel and therefore, can hardly be called 'completely safe'.

Next, what is Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone?

The results from a patch testing done on a sample group showed a positive reaction (contact allergy) to Methylchloroisothiazoline/Methylisothiazolinone. The immune system reacts with its defense mechanisms with each exposure of the human skin to Methylchloroisothiazoline/ Methylisothiazolinone. This chemical mix is also used as preservative, besides being found in cosmetics, shampoos and skin care products. It also has several uses in other industries.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate or SLES
Sodium laureth sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) is a detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products (soaps, shampoos, toothpaste etc.). It is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.
A study at the University of Georgia Medical College, indicated that SLES penetrated into the eyes as well as brain, heart, liver, etc., and showed long-term retention in the tissues.
The study also indicated that SLES penetrated young children's eyes and prevented them from developing properly and caused cataracts to develop in adults.
It may cause hair loss by attacking the follicle. It is classified as a 'drug' in bubble baths because it eats away skin protection and causes rashes and infection to occur.
It is potentially harmful to skin and hair as it cleans by corrosion and dries skin by stripping the protective lipids from the surface so that the skin cannot effectively regulate moisture.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is used in industrial products including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps as well as in household products such as toothpastes, shampoos, shaving foams, some dissolvable aspirins, fiber therapy caplets, and bubble baths for its thickening effect and its ability to whip up a good lather.

Although SLES is somewhat less irritating than Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), it cannot be metabolised by the liver and its effects are therefore much longer-lasting.

A report published in the Journal of The American College of Toxicology in 1983 showed that concentrations as low as 0.5% could cause irritation and concentrations of 10-30% caused skin corrosion and severe irritation. National Institutes of Health "Household Products Directory" of chemical ingredients lists over 80 products that contain SLS. Some soaps have concentrations of up to 30%, which the above-mentioned ACT report called "highly irritating and dangerous".

Shampoos are among the most frequently reported products to the FDA. Reports include eye irritation, scalp irritation, tangled hair, swelling of the hands, face and arms, and split and fuzzy hair. The main cause of these problems is SLS.

So why is a dangerous chemical like SLS used in our soaps and shampoos?

The answer is simple - it is cheap. The SLS found in our soaps is exactly the same as you would find in a car wash or even a garage, where it is used to degrease car engines - what kind of beauty are we aiming for?!

In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, SLS dissolves the oils on your skin, which can cause drying of the skin. It is also well documented that it denatures skin proteins, which causes not only irritation, but also allows environmental contaminants easier access to the lower, sensitive layers of the skin.

Perhaps most worryingly, SLS is also absorbed into the body from skin application. Once it has been absorbed, one of the main effects of SLS is to mimic the activity of the hormone Oestrogen. This has many health implications and may be responsible for a variety of health problems from PMS and menopausal symptoms to plumetting male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer, wherein oestrogen is an actor.

Cocamide MEA or DEA
Take the case of the suspect cancer-causing agent diethanolamine (DEA), which is used as an emulsifier and foaming agent in shampoos. The Federal National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association between the topical application of diethanolamine and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. For the DEA-related ingredients, the NTP study suggested that the carcinogenic response was linked to possible residual levels of DEA.

When news came out about the cancer-causing potential of DEA, many shampoo manufacturers looked at their labels and realized their products contained DEA or cocamide DEA, both chemicals being cited in the NTP study as cancer-causing.
So what did they do? And why did they do it?
Apparently more for marketing reasons than consumer health, many manufacturers then decided to eliminate cocamide DEA and in its place, use substitute ingredients like lauramide DEA. The manufacturers soon learned that this chemical was also found to be cancer-causing by the same federal program. Consumer outcry and pressure led to its removal from some, but not all, shampoo products. Nevertheless, instead of simply keeping DEA derivatives out of their products, many shampoo manufacturers went on to a chemical not yet tested by the NTP but one that still contains DEA.
If you look at many of the shampoo products today, you will see they list cocamide MEA on their labels. Of cocamide MEA, the FDA says it is one "of the most commonly used ingredients that may contain DEA". So though not tested, it can nevertheless be considered a chemical of concern.

Commonly Used Ingredients That May Contain DEA
With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited ingredients, cosmetics and personal care products are among the least-regulated consumer products today. A cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient. The following are some of the most commonly used ingredients that may contain DEA:
Cocamide DEA
Cocamide MEA
DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
Lauramide DEA
Linoleamide MEA
Myristamide DEA
Oleamide DEA
Stearamide MEA
TEA-Lauryl Sulfate

Garnier Fructis Fortifying Cream Conditioner for Normal Hair (L'oreal) contains: PEG 180, Lauryl Methicone copolyol, parfum(c16663/1), trideceth-12, methylparaben, nacnamide sacharum ...
(the rest of the ingredients are written in a fontsize that is completely unreadeable) etc

PEG 180
Causes cancer, endocrine disruption, irritation and developmental/reproductive toxicity

Causes possible liver effects and skin irritation.


The EPA is very concerned about the antimicrobial preservatives called parabens (alkyl-p-hydroxybenzoates). Parabens are ubiquitous -- found in cosmetics, skin creams, sunscreen lotions, shampoos -- even pet food. The EPA states that all parabens -- methyl, propyl, butyl -- have been proven to have endocrine-disrupting effects. They are particularly concerned about the hormone-disrupting effects of nonoxynol (nonyl phenol) found in hair colorings, shampoos, and spermicides, and sunscreen chemicals such as benzophenone [oxybenzone] and methoxycinnamate. It is very disturbing to learn that many of these chemicals can even be found in personal care products that claim to be "natural" and "organic."
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recently reported that they have found synthetic hormone-disrupting chemicals in shampoo, preservatives, hair coloring agents, sunscreens, fragrances and pharmaceuticals.

Over the past decade, the United States has been urgently investigating the effects of low levels of synthetic personal care product chemicals found in our water -- lakes, rivers, oceans. Scientists around the world have now linked these chemicals from personal care products to a growing global health crisis, causing life-threatening and costly metabolic and neurological disorders.

Fa crème bodywash yoghurt (schwarzkopf & henkel) contains : SLES, CAPB, Lauryl Glucoside etc

Genetic studies talk of familiar risk of brain and prostate cancer

Sunsilk thick and long shampoo (Hindustan unilever) contains : SLES, Fragrance, Dimethicone etc

Fragrance or Pthalates
While the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association said the "use of phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products is supported by an extensive body of scientific research and data that confirms safety," the chief of endocrinology at Northwestern University, Andrea Dunaif, said the findings present "strong evidence in humans that this endocrine-disrupting chemical is associated with changes in boys".

Phthalates may be :
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP)

Animal studies on certain phthalates have shown the chemicals may cause a variety of problems, including reproductive and developmental harm, organ damage, immune suppression, endocrine disruption and cancer.

The major concern is that, as these chemicals are so ubiquitous in our environment, no one knows for sure what the long-term exposure, even in small doses, may be doing to humans, and particularly developing infants.

Studies, including one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that people have higher levels of certain phthalates in their systems than was previously thought. Humans can be exposed not only through ingestion and inhalation, but also by direct injection and skin contact.

Dimethicone is another name for polydimethylsiloxane and is used to impart a soft velvety feel to hair or skin products. It is also used as an emulsifier for "water-in-oil" emulsions.
Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); severe or persistent itching, burning, or stinging; skin irritation; worsening dryness

MORAL : Beauty comes with a price. the question is are we willing to pay the price? You decide.

Note: the above is without malice or ill-will to any particular company or brand. I had only these at my house so I have used them for this bit of education!

all information quoted is from various websites and viewers can do more research.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Delhi Gurgaon Expressway and Rainwater Harvesting

NHAI and DSS constructions constructed this wonderful expressway linking delhi and gurgaon. they say it now takes only 15mts to reach gurgaon.

unrelated to the above is a fact that groundwater levels in both south delhi and gurgaon have fallen to a state which can be best classified as critical. The best way to do water harvesting is to have a continuous smooth surface acting as a water catcher as the runoff from a smooth paved surface is higher.

join the above two together and you have four. an expressway, a continuous smooth surface to catch rainwater, good potential to recharge and a good monsoon.

however the ground reality. The expressway has no water harvesting between hero honda chowk in gurgaon to delhi border. i don't know if there is any water harvesting on delhi side of the border. The water harvesting that has been done between hero honda chowk in gurgaon upto the toll plaza at village kheri daula in gurgaon is poorly planned and badly executed. i took some photos of the harvesting structures where most of the pipes are jammed with garbage and construction material. nobody from nhai, dss construction or the distrcit administration gurgaon thought it prudent to see that these water harvesting endeavours are atleast operational.
meanwhile after every rain, water accumulates on the side lanes and creates a nuisance for the drivers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Soak pits

After my last post a couple of people told me as to why don’t I put a photo of a soak pit. Well here goes.

If you see anyone can dig a 3feet pit in an unpaved surface, fill it with bricks and stone and voila! You have a soak pit. The idea is to direct surface water into a pit so that it can find its way underground.

This photos are courtesy Dharmvir, a very bright boy who lives in Gurgaon village and who had courage to implement my suggestions near his house. Three cheers to him.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Its Raining

All these years that I have been listening about ‘rainwater harvesting’ and its wonders! I felt it was complicated, costly and crazy(!) I saw pictures of a pit with a pipe jutting out with some platitudes written alongside stating that water was becoming a scarce commodity in the time to come and that we needed to conserve water. I felt I needed to do something but did not know what to do, and worse, where to start. In the absence of answers to these two basic questions I ended up doing nothing – other than feeling guilty, that is!

All of us now know and understand the following: that the Earth is 70% water; our bodies are 2/3 water and fresh water is only about 3% of the total water available on the Earth. Furthermore, if we draw ground water without recharging it then the groundwater supply is exhausted and of course, seawater is not fit for consumption. In summation, if all of us consume, then WHO is in charge of conservation and regeneration of that precious, scarce, fast-depleting commodity, water.

Also too, all these years I was made to believe that this task is to be done by the government. But isn’t the government composed of people who themselves are consumers? Does this not lead us to a Catch-22 situation?

Conservation and regeneration is every consumer’s job; like say, saving a part of our salary so that we may use it in time of need. The paramount question then becomes, how do I conserve water?

Here are some simple rules which all of us can follow:

Rule 1 : Reduce the use of water. If you take a shower twice a day, try to use a bucket in the evening bath because a bucket bath uses less water. If you use one bucket to take a bath, use 2 mugs less. If you have a habit of washing your car everyday with a hosepipe, do so every other day and reduce the washing time from 15 minutes to 5 – better still, use a bucket and cloth to clean your vehicle. A wet cloth is able to take the toughest mud stains from the surface.

Rule 2 : Reuse water. Rinse water from washing of clothes can be used to swob floors, wash cars and verandas etc. Water from washing vegetables and dals can be used for watering the flowerpots and lawns.

Rule 3 : Recycle water. Catch rainfall in buckets, use water from the kitchen and washbasin to recharge groundwater etc.

All the rules come into operation only when we first decide on a simple question: “DO WE CARE”? When we care we cannot afford to ask the question “Why should I save water when the whole world around is wasting water”, OR “ Why should I, I can afford to pay for the water I use.” It the same thing about caring for a loved one, I don’t say “a lot of loved ones are dying in the various wars fought around the world so why should I care for my loved one” OR “ I can always get another loved one if I lose this one so why should I worry.”

When we CARE then we can certainly find ways to implement the above three rules.

There is another argument that I hear from a lot of educated housewives or homemakers. “ I want to save water but what can I do, my maid does not listen to me and she is the one who washes verandas everyday and it is sahib’s chowkidar who washes the car everyday.” Once a neighbour of mine used the same argument and I asked her with a smile “ If she does not listen to you why don’t you replace her?After all your are the master of the house and you pay her to do your work. If the servant does what she deems fit then how do you qualify yourself as the owner?”

Coming back to our rules. Rule 3 regarding recycling excites me the most where I have a chance to actively regenerate water into the system. There are various ways to regenerate the system.

If you own a House:

One very crude and effective method is to have as much unpaved surface (kuccha or grassed area) as possible. Unpaved surfaces soak water and rainwater can easily be soaked into the kuccha ground.

More effective and professional way is to go for a rainwater harvesting system. Rainwater can be harvested both from the rooftop of your house and paved/unpaved surface of the house. For example, for rooftop harvesting, the formula is, area of catchment (area of rooftop) * average annual rainfall of the city * runoff coefficient (0.8 or 80% of the water running off can be caught). Thus for a 100 sq meter rooftop * 1000 mm rainfall * 0.8 leads to 80 cubic meter or 80000 liters of water that can be harvested. This harvested water can either be stored in a tank or diverted to recharge the underground aquifer through a recharge well. Thumb rule for deciding whether to store or recharge depends on the number of rainy days. As a rule if there are more rainy days then storage is a better option. Thus for Gurgaon, recharge is a better option but you can always choose to store rather than recharge.

So ask this question “Do I care?” if you do go right ahead and do something. This year we anyway have a lot of rain that forces us to answer this in the affirmative.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

honour for chickens and compassion by humans

Continuing from the last post: One of the things we were crazy for in college was a free chicken leg. The day the hostel mess had chicken for lunch; it was a dash from the lectures. It was like our very existence was at stake if we didn’t get a good chicken piece.

I am not sure why there is so much at stake for a chicken piece because over a period of time specially since a decade or more back when I gave up non veg and stuck to veg food I started noticing people at parties and how they used to inch towards chicken items and often overate just to have their hands on an extra chicken piece.

It also maybe possible that when I gave up non veg did I acutely get aware of nature and animals around me. It is quite a site to see the way these winged birds are transported for slaughtering. I am sure the people in the trade over a period of time become used to this or anyway as they say “ they anyway are going to be killed so why care”. Strange attitude!! I also wonder how no organization, political party or individuals don’t raise their voice against this. I am sure animals also have honour. If we forget about animal honour what about human compassion???

Non veg specially chicken was a really sought after thing in the college. in the mess if the lunch had chicken on its menu we would ensure that we would do a 100m sprint from our lectures even if it involved a little pushing and shoving.

the clock has moved and with age comes maturity. but i am amazed at the fact that we were so blind that we never during those fun filled days looked or questioned "how is the chicken transported, stored and cooked"

maybe had it not been for the fact i turned a veg a decade or more back and that now i look at everything nature has to offer much closely that i see scenes which shake me to my foundation. a few photos i clicked on the move. the photos are on hens being transported for slaughter. how can one eat after seing this? however do humans specially the religious kind who feel that no meat on tuesday and saturday get themselves to put dead meat of this kind in their mouth. how can no political party, organisation or individual not object to such inhuman treatment of animals.

Monday, July 14, 2008

and here's the article from indian express about river yamuna with a view of the shit stream joining najafgarh drain from gurgaon.

New Delhi, July 13 57% of Delhi’s waste is dumped in the Yamuna.
The sole water source for Delhi’s burgeoning population is fast losing ground, with environmentalists describing the Yamuna as a “dead river”. Here is a ‘postmortem’ on what caused the ‘death’
* The Yamuna’s 22-km stretch in Delhi is barely 2 per cent of the length of the river, but contributes over 70 per cent of the pollution load.
* Pollution levels in the Yamuna have risen. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) load has increased by 2.5 times between 1980 and 2005 - from 117 tonnes per day (TPD) in 1980 to 276 TPD in 2005.
* Delhi discharges about 3,684 MLD (million litres per day) of sewage into the Yamuna.
* The faecal coliform count, which indicates the presence of disease causing micro-organisms, is nearly 25,000 times more than the limit prescribed for bathing.
* Delhi and Agra together account for 90 per cent of the pollution in the river.
* The Capital has 16 drains discharging treated and untreated wastewater/sewage into Yamuna.
* Approximately 1,900 MLD of waste water is discharged from the municipal sector and 320 MLD from the industrial sector. The installed capacity for treatment is 1,270 MLD.
* The Najafgarh drain contributes to 60 per cent of the total wastewater and 45 per cent of the total BOD load being discharged from Delhi into the Yamuna. The municipal wastewater has increased from 960 MLD in 1977 to 1,900 MLD in 1997.
* The capacity for treatment has been increased from 450 MLD in 1977 to 1,270 MLD in 1997.
* A Central Pollution Control Board study on river water quality at the upstream of Wazirabad shows dissolved oxygen (DO) level at 7.5 mg/l and BOD level at 2.3 mg/l.
* At downstream Okhla, the DO level declined to 1.3 mg/l with the BOD at 16 mg/l, indicating considerable deterioration in water quality due to discharge of sewage and industrial effluents.
* The coliform count at Wazirabad is 8,506/100 ml whereas at Okhla, it increases to 3,29,312/100 ml, as against the prescribed standard of 500/100 ml.

The Sahibi or Sabi River originates in Jaipur District of the state of Rajasthan. After passing through Alwar District in Rajasthan and Gurgaon District in the state of Haryana it enters Delhi near Dhansa.
In the earlier years, the discharges in Sahibi used to moderate till the same reached Delhi. Due to interception of Jahajgarh and other jheels and the under ground reservoirs of Rajasthan and Haryana,very little quantity of water used to enter Delhi. Due to land developments and improvement in Drainage system in Haryana, it is seen that every year, the quantity of water entering Delhi increased and the Najafgarh Jheel areas started remaining under water for the full year. To check this entry of water in Delhi, the bund and regulator at dhansa were constructed in the Year 1964 and the same year there had been an unprecedented heavy flood in Sahibi which caused breach in Dhansa Bund and resulted in submergence of most of areas of Najafgarh Block in deep waters.
Instances of heavy flood in Sahibi have been in the years 1967 and 1977. Though the flood of 1967 did not make any damage in Delhi area but 1977 flood created even worse position than 1964, when even the far off colonies of Delhi like Janakpuri, etc. were threatened by the flood waters.

This is now the famous najafgarh drain which is the 60% cause of all pollution in river yamuna.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tree Planting : The Eucalyptus Angle

Eucalyptus was called the wonder tree. Indian Forest Department in the 1970s felt that they had found an ideal solution to increase forest cover. Eucalyptus grows very fast and hence, along major highways (for example, Delhi-Chandigarh) it was planted copiously. However as more information was gathered, there were facts about the eucalyptus that had not been accounted for. I picked up these two articles on the net and subsequently read a little about eucalyptus.
James Randerson, science correspondent of The Guardian on Friday December 23, 2005: “Neutralising your carbon emissions is becoming the must-do activity for the eco-conscious citizen. But now an international team of scientists has raised an unexpected objection: some tree-planting projects may, they suggest, be doing more harm than good.”
Researchers have found that planting trees to soak up carbon can have detrimental knock- on effects. "I believe we haven't thought through the consequences of this," says team-member Robert Jackson at Duke University, North Carolina, "I think the policy could backfire on us, but it will take decades to play out." Dr Jackson says the two most common plantation species are pines and eucalyptus trees. These fast-growing species rapidly suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but they result in monoculture forests which support a meagre range of biodiversity. Dr Jackson stresses that planting trees is not a bad thing per se, but schemes that are not well thought through can turn out to be environmentally harmful.
Times of India Delhi, November 1, 2002: “There are a number of misconceptions associated with Eucalyptus trees, which is causing panic among the residents of Noida. The most serious among them is the belief that nothing grows under an Eucalyptus and that these are detrimental to the water level of an area. But is Eucalyptus really harmful to the environment as has been made out by a section of the society?”
“Well, most of these stories are actually myths. A survey had been carried out in Dehradun, which showed that about 223 varieties of plants grew under a Eucalyptus compared to a much smaller number of plants under a Sal tree. Since this species grow very fast it consumes more water. But even that does not mean that the water level of the area goes down as its roots do not go below 10 feet,” assures V.M. Arora, O.S.D. (Forest), Noida Authority. In 1853, the British planted this Australian tree for the first time in Nilgiri Hills, some of which can still be found there. “But the water level of these hill stations has not gone down nor has it hampered the growth of other plants,” adds Arora.

From Wikipedia I found the following on Eucalyptus:
Eucalyptus (From Greek, ευκάλυπτος meaning "well covered") is a diverse genus of trees (and a few shrubs), the members of which dominate the tree flora of Australia. There are more than seven hundred species of Eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, with a very small number found in adjacent parts of New Guinea and Indonesia and one as far north as the Philippines islands.

An essential oil extracted from eucalyptus leaves contains compounds that are powerful natural disinfectants and which can be toxic in large quantities. Many Eucalyptus species have a habit of dropping entire branches off as they grow. Eucalyptus forests are littered with dead branches. On warm days vapourised eucalyptus oil rises above the bush to create the characteristic distant blue haze of the Australian landscape. Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable (trees have been known to explode and bush fires can travel easily through the oil-rich air of the tree crowns.) The dead bark and fallen branches are also flammable. Eucalyptus are the basis for several industries, such as sawmilling, pulp, charcoal and others. Several species have become invasive and are causing major problems for local ecosystems, mainly due to the absence of wildlife corridors and rotations management.

It is quite clear that native or local solutions work best. Sometimes humans in their quest for finding short term fast solutions forget the fact that nature has different designs. We humans still have to acquire a lot of knowledge in the natural process, to say things with certainty. AMEN!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

We don't need NO education

A Gurgaon vernacular carried this newsitem: “Children to help for Environment Betterment”. It further goes on to say that TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute which earlier used to be called Tata Energy Research Institute) will take the help of children for betterment of environment. (YAWN!!)

TERI will educate children in vermi-composting and water conservation. For this the institute will tie with various schools. One research associate from TERI announced at a press conference that there will be painting and debate competitions as well as visit to environment-associated places (environment-associated places??).

So what’s new in this?
There is – and that is that this is being done under the YAMUNA ACTION PLAN 2. Money has been given by multilateral funding agencies to the Indian government to clean river Yamuna. What better way to spend this money than to involve the departments of Public Health and Forestry and “EDUCATE CHILDREN”! After all, educating children is an old and time-tested formula which is fail-safe. Nobody gets censured as everybody feels the money is well-spent, everybody is very happy and of course, no work is REALLY done. It is like peeing in your pants where you feel relieved, there is a warm feeling and the mess is rarely seen and when detected it is anyway too late so somebody else is saddled with the clean up and life goes on as normal.

I am sure a huge and reputed institute like TERI can do better than this. And the reason trotted out for going after the age-old social development formula of “Educate the children” is that “children are the future”! So, Present be damned, we will take care of the Future.

Why can’t we educate all the young adults working in BPOs; these young twenty-somethings who work to American or Australian clocks and chill out at late night parties. Why can’t we have environmental painting and debate competitions in BPOs? Simple, because no company or corporate worth its name is interested in environment. Why can’t all corporate executives in any one corporate park be taken on a nature trail along the Najafgarh drain to show them where their excreta ends up? NO, this can’t happen as no corporate (the same corporate that keenly organizes river rafting expeditions in the Himalayas for employee morale) gives time out to its executives nor does it itself organize such an environmentally enlightening nature trail. It has no press value, and therefore, it is not worth bothering about. Anyway who cares for the shit, it is supposed to be done and forgotten about.

Dear people of Public Health Department, Forest Department and all other departments as well as TERI, pollution in river Yamuna will not stop by mere debate and painting competitions or even by educating the students (those poor creatures are anyway going crazy being educated!)

The pollution will stop by finding local solutions for wastewater and sewage. By ensuring that the 34 million cu m of rainwater which flows with the sewage every monsoon is harvested, by ensuring that fresh water is not used in public parks and that each government and group housing society buildings harvests its wastewater. BUT these are difficult to do, as they require vision and hard work. So, until then let’s screw the present and take care of the future by educating the children!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Providing drinking water

On june 18 - The Haryana Chief Minister Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda said that Haryana Government had earmarked a sum of Rs. 155 crore during the current financial year under an innovative Indira Gandhi Water supply scheme for providing eight lakh water supply connections free of cost to the families belonging to scheduled castes in the State and out of these 3.82 lakh connections had already been given to the beneficiaries so far. Great job done Mr C.M.
however there is a small catch. we all forget that 80% of the water supplied to households is thrown out of the house as sewage in urban areas and wastewater in rural areas. (urban areas don't understand the concept of wastewater. for urban areas as everything in the house is connected to the sewer line all wastewater ends up as sewage.) rural people are not lucky as they have no sewer lines and 80% defecate outside so water not used or waste water is taken out of the house.

so if haryana govt. spends 155cr for providing water what about wastewater???? it is either the planners or admin people forgot that there is no sewer in the villages or they didn't think wastewater management was imp. rural people are anyway supposed to manage things on their own.

actually this has always been the case with central planning. part of the system is always left blank and somebody is supposed to fill in the blanks. we seriously now need planners and admin people to upgrade not only their knowledge but also skills to come to terms with globalisation happening. this way money can be better utilised and people can enjoy benefits.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Compact fluorescent light bulb- some compact mercury info

i was doing some background check on energy efficient buildings when i came across info on CFL or compact fluorescent light bulb. i had read about CFL earlier and was acutely aware that they are efficient vis a vis tubes and incandescent bulbs. also the fact that indian govt. had passed the Energy act 2001 based on which haryana govt. had made regulations and everybody was composing and singing raginis made on CFL. there were govt. schemes to replace incand. bulbs with cfl's. as i started reading info on cfl there are finer prints which nobody is talking about. got some info on wikipedia n some american sites. collated it. i think we need to do more work in understanding cfl's before blindly pushing it down in the market. this is all the more important as waste management has never been a very strong point with us. for most of us waste is something which needs to be thrown out , so here goes

Mercury poisoning is the ill effects on humans nervous system and other bodily systems due to the over-exposure of mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it affects the nervous system. The "mad hatters" of the 19th century suffered from mercury poisoning which caused personality changes, nervousness, trembling, and even dementia. The hatters were exposed to mercury in the felting process, where mercury was rubbed onto cloth to preserve it.
The degree of risk varies depending on the amount of mercury, the form, how often, and the age of the exposed person. Children (and also unborn fetuses) are the most vulnerable the effects of mercury poisoning.

If you are affected by acute mercury poisoning, your symptoms will usually begin with a cough, chest tightness, trouble with breathing, and an upset stomach. Pneumonia can develop, which can be fatal.
If you swallow inorganic mercury compounds, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe kidney damage may occur.

If you are exposed to any form of mercury repeatedly or for an extended period, chronic mercury poisoning can result. Health effects include nervous system effects, kidney damage, and birth defects. There are several symptoms:

Gingivitis: The gums become soft and spongy, the teeth get loose, sores may develop, and there may be increased salivation.
Mood and mental changes: People with chronic mercury poisoning often also have wide mood swings, becoming irritable, frightened, depressed, or excited very quickly for no apparent reason. Such people may become extremely upset at any criticism, lose all self-confidence, and become apathetic. Hallucinations, memory loss, and inability to concentrate can occur.
Nerve damage: It may start with a fine tremor (shaking) of the hand, loss of sensitivity in hands and feet, difficulty in walking, or slurred speech. Tremors may also occur in the tongue and eyelids. Eventually this can progress to trouble balancing and walking. It has even caused paralysis and death in rare cases.

  • Besides the above, Mercury can cause kidney damage, which includes increased protein in the urine and may result in kidney failure at high dose exposure.
    Mercury has also been known to affect the development of prenatal life and infants.
    Skin allergies may develop. If this happens, repeated exposure causes rash and itching.
    Exposure to mercury vapor can cause the lens of the eye to discolor.
    Some of the inorganic mercury compounds (mercury two) can cause burns or severe irritation of the skin and eyes on contact.

Now something about CFL. A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), also known as a compact fluorescent light bulb (or less commonly as a compact fluorescent tube [CFT]) is a type of fluorescent lamp. Many CFLs are designed to replace an incandescent lamp and can fit in the existing light fixtures formerly used for incandescents.

Compared to general service incandescent lamps giving the same amount of visible light, CFLs use less power and have a longer rated life, but generally have a higher purchase price. In the United States, a CFL can save over 30 USD in electricity costs over the lamp's lifetime compared to an incandescent lamp and save 2000 times its own weight in greenhouse gases. Like all fluorescent lamps, CFLs contain mercury; this complicates the disposal of fluorescent lamps.
Modern CFLs typically have a lifespan of between 6,000 and 15,000 hours, whereas incandescent lamps are usually manufactured to have a lifespan of 750 hours or 1,000 hours. Some incandescent bulbs claim long rated lifespans of 20,000 hours with reduced light output

Broken CFL bulbs release mercury vapors which are harmful to human and ecological health. The EPA ( in USA) has a page dedicated to clean-up of broken CFL Bulbs. Although mercury in these bulbs is a health hazard, special handling upon breakage is currently not printed on the packaging of household CFL bulbs in many countries. It is important to note that the amount of mercury released by one bulb can exceed U.S. federal guidelines for chronic exposure

CFLs, like all fluorescent lamps, contain small amounts of mercury and it is a concern for landfills and waste incinerators where the mercury from lamps is released and contributes to air and water pollution. In the USA, lighting manufacturer members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) have voluntarily capped the amount of mercury used in CFLs:
Under the voluntary commitment, effective 15 April 2007, NEMA members will cap the total mercury content in CFLs of less than 25 watts at 5 milligrams (mg) per unit. The total mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit.

mercury from spent CFLs is not released into air if the bulbs are not broken in transport. Only 3% of CFL bulbs are properly disposed of or recycled. This comparison also only refers to the statistics of a CFL bulb surviving its full rated life.
Some manufacturers such as Philips, GE and Turolight make very low mercury content CFLs. In 2007, Turolight claimed its new Genesis Fusion line contained only 1mg of mercury, making it the lowest EnergyStar approved bulb in North America.

Safe disposal requires storing the bulbs unbroken until they can be processed. Consumers should seek advice from local authorities (in the west and not here).

Usually, one can either:
Return used CFLs to where they were purchased, so the store can recycle them correctly; or
Take used CFLs to a local recycling facility.
Broken CFLs are an immediate health hazard due to the evaporation of mercury into the atmosphere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that, in the absence of local guideline, fluorescent bulbs be double-bagged in plastic bags before disposal.

The first step of processing CFLs involves crushing the bulbs in a machine that uses negative pressure ventilation and a mercury-absorbing filter or cold trap to contain mercury vapor. Many municipalities are purchasing such machines. The crushed glass and metal is stored in drums, ready for shipping to recycling factories.

According to the Northwest Compact Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Project, because household users have the option of disposing of these products in the same way they dispose of other solid waste, "a large majority of household CFLs are going to municipal solid waste".

What Never to Do with a Mercury Spill
· Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury (but see the "What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks" section below for more specific instructions about vacuuming broken fluorescent light bulbs). The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
· Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
· Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. By "direct contact," we mean that mercury was (or has been) spilled directly on the clothing. For example:
if you broke a mercury thermometer and some of elemental mercury beads came in contact with your clothing, or
if you broke a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) so that broken glass and other material from the bulb, including mercury-containing powder, came into contact with your clothing.
You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, like the clothing you happened to be wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are lighting more homes than ever before, and EPA is encouraging Americans to use and recycle them safely. Carefully recycling CFLs prevents the release of mercury into the environment and allows for the reuse of glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights.
EPA is continually reviewing its clean-up and disposal recommendations for CFLs to ensure that the Agency presents the most up-to-date information for consumers and businesses.

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug
Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials
If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials

Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.

Once more on what happens with mercury.

Mercury poisoning is the ill effects on humans nervous system and other bodily systems due to the over-exposure of mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it affects the nervous system. The "mad hatters" of the 19th century suffered from mercury poisoning which caused personality changes, nervousness, trembling, and even dementia. The hatters were exposed to mercury in the felting process, where mercury was rubbed onto cloth to preserve it.
The degree of risk varies depending on the amount of mercury, the form, how often, and the age of the exposed person. Children (and also unborn fetuses) are the most vulnerable the effects of mercury poisoning.
If you are affected by acute mercury poisoning, your symptoms will usually begin with a cough, chest tightness, trouble with breathing, and an upset stomach. Pneumonia can develop, which can be fatal.
If you swallow inorganic mercury compounds, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe kidney damage may occur.
If you are exposed to any form of mercury repeatedly or for an extended period, chronic mercury poisoning can result. Health effects include nervous system effects, kidney damage, and birth defects. There are several symptoms:
Gingivitis: The gums become soft and spongy, the teeth get loose, sores may develop, and there may be increased salivation.
Mood and mental changes: People with chronic mercury poisoning often also have wide mood swings, becoming irritable, frightened, depressed, or excited very quickly for no apparent reason. Such people may become extremely upset at any criticism, lose all self-confidence, and become apathetic. Hallucinations, memory loss, and inability to concentrate can occur.
Nerve damage: It may start with a fine tremor (shaking) of the hand, loss of sensitivity in hands and feet, difficulty in walking, or slurred speech. Tremors may also occur in the tongue and eyelids. Eventually this can progress to trouble balancing and walking. It has even caused paralysis and death in rare cases.
Besides the above, Mercury can cause kidney damage, which includes increased protein in the urine and may result in kidney failure at high dose exposure.
Mercury has also been known to affect the development of prenatal life and infants.
Skin allergies may develop. If this happens, repeated exposure causes rash and itching.
Exposure to mercury vapor can cause the lens of the eye to discolor.
Some of the inorganic mercury compounds (mercury two) can cause burns or severe irritation of the skin and eyes on contact.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wasteful Energy

Here’s 2 items I picked in the Indian express. Way to go about guys. People across the world are doing these things. Environment is Chic.

First Item
As energy-hungry India looks for alternative sources of electricity, a new study says there is a potential of generating 2500 MW of power from urban, municipal and industrial wastes in big cities in the next two to three years.
About 40,000 million tonnes of solid wastes and 5000 million cubic metres of liquid waste is generated every year in the urban areas of the country which can be suitably recycled for power generation, according to the study brought out by leading industry body ASSOCHAM.
According to estimates, about 1500 megawatt of power could be generated from urban and municipal wastes and an additional 1000 megawatt could be secured from industrial wastes in the country by 2010.
'Mitigating Climate Change: The Indian Perspective', suggests that expediting setting up of waste energy projects can partly solve the problem of power shortage.
The cost factor involved could be within the range of around Rs 200 crore, resources for which could be generated through municipalities and local governments with the subsidy element coming from the state governments, it said.
Several studies on Indian power sector reveal the potential for saving of around 20,000 MW through various energy efficiency measures, including renovation and modernisation of old power plants and adoption of cleaner coal technologies.
ASSOCHAM says that India has potential to reduce its projected emissions over next 30 years by nearly one-quarter.
All the energy efficiency measures in the power sector could qualify to gain the carbon credits, it says noting that initiatives by several generating and transmission companies recently towards claiming carbon credits are a positive sign for the sector.
The study also maintains that with the abundant availability of renewable sources like biomass across the country, India has vast potential to replace the current usage of fossil fuels in various industrial and commercial applications.
"This would reduce the dependence of fossil fuels in the industrial system and also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. This is also expected to increase the economic value of the biomass fuels which in turn is likely to improve the social and economic conditions of the rural areas," the study says.
With the continuous exploration of gas reserves across the country, India is also poised to grow in this field and develop more gas-based power plants and find its usage in various industrial applications, it says.
"The Government of India's steps towards encouragement of private participation in this sector and growing potential for gas-based power plants in India would definitely play a key role in future to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in power and industrial sector," the study says.

Second Item
Marking the biggest and first of its kind tie-up in the private sector, Real Estate major K Raheja Corp is working with former US president Bill Clinton-led Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) to retrofit their buildings across the country to cut Green House Gases. “Climate change is a global problem that requires local action,” Bill Clinton had said on May 17 last year, while announcing the Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program that looks at retrofitting the larger buildings in sixteen of the world’s largest cities.
Mumbai is one of the cities listed from India, where K Raheja Corp has started work on Inorbit Mall in Malad and a hotel in Powai, first in their list of 20 odd buildings to be retrofitted.
While the concept of constructing green buildings is fairly established, retrofitting existing new buildings is comparatively a new concept. And the real estate group, which plans to retrofit all its properties, is not only looking at cuts in energy bills but also at a savvy international image.
“We have signed a first-ever project development under the Clinton Climate Initiative and are working on the energy audit with Johnsons Control, one of the companies introduced as the leading energy efficiency provider by the CCI,” says Shabbir Kanchwala, associate vice president, K Raheja Corp.
And it’s not just about energy saving, he says. “Not only will we cut our energy expenditure by 20 to 25 per cent, but will also save up to 20 per cent water. Moreover, this is also building for the future as don’t sell any of our properties. Instead, we lease them out to world renowned companies like Microsoft, which like to work in savvy, eco-friendly buildings. We are the first ones to retrofit our buildings, but we are also the first to gain this competitive edge,” says Kanchwala.
Work has started in Mumbai and Hyderabad, and according to the company, 50 lakh square feet of built space (in over 20 odd buildings) will be retrofitted. For the process, smarter glass varieties (which let in light, not heat) and better suited air-conditioning systems are used. Sewage treatment is also done to conserve and recycle water. While some government buildings have been retrofitted for cutting carbon emissions, the concept is still picking up in the private sector. “Many government buildings under the CPWD have been retrofitted, like the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The concept is catching up now in the private sector as retrofitting to cut emissions is a win-win situation,” says Sanjay Seth, Energy Economist, Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Aravali Mountains to become green again, and again and again

  • A small news item in the vernacular daily amar ujala caught my eye. The gist of the item goes as follows

    =Forest department to plant 23 lac saplings
    This is double the number of saplings which were planted last year (i.e. last year they planted 12.5lac saplings)
    =Selected 200 villages where along with gram panchayat’s plantation will be done.(wonder in how many villages it was done last year, did the gram panchayat get involved last year or not?)
    =This 23 lacs will be spread over districts of gurgon, rewari,mewat,mahendergarh and faridabad.
    =Out of 325 villages, 200 have been choosen(wonder what the selection criterion was?)
    =The department will plant 23 lacs saplings while another 35 lacs saplings will be given out free.

    Breakup of the plantations is as follows

    Gurgaon 1lac 76thousand
    Faridabad 3lac 80thousand
    Mewat 4lacs
    Mehendrgarh 7lac 85 thousand
    Rewari 5lac 91thousand

    Reading this some questions came to my mind

    =Is there any idea of the 12.5 lacs saplings planted last year what was the survival rate?
    =If we assume that before the aravali project started there was 0% forest cover on the aravali, the project would have increased that forest cover to say x%. these annual plantation exercises should thus incrementally increase that forest cover. Has it happened ? (in mewat where I travel regularly I can say absolutely not, in Gurgaon I see a lot of kikkar. Locals tell me forest department spread kikkar seeds . u see kikkar if not managed grows as a weed and overpowers native species.)
    =How will the free supply be done? (Obviously when saplings have been made it has incurred costs. So mode of free supply important. 35lacs saplings are a lot of saplings to be given free. It can’t be one to one, it has to be through retail outlets, which ones and how? )
    =Which species of plants will be selected? Not kikkar. Kikkar overruns most native species and ruins a forest. I also did a background check on kikkar here are the results

    Current name: Prosopis chilensis
    Family: Fabaceae - Mimosoideae
    Prosopis chilensis is a small to medium sized tree up to 12 m in height and 1 m in diameter; bark brown, fissured; spines a pair, stout, yellow, glabrous; root system reportedly shallow and spreading. The leaves are compound, each with numerous leaflets along several pairs of pinnae. P. chilensis has 10-29 leaflets per pinnae and no more than two pairs of pinnae per leaf. The leaflets are about 1 cm apart. The flowers are greenish-white to yellow, abundant and occur in spike-like racemes. The pods are beige to off-white, about 15 cm long and 15 mm wide. The pods have a tendency to be rolled up along the axis. Seeds many, bean-shaped, oblong, 6-7 mm long, flattened, brown, each in 4-angled case.

    History of cultivation In South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia), P. chilensis was introduced in 1912 by Dinter (a botanist), who distributed it widely as a fodder and shade tree over the next few years. In other countries such as the Sudan, it has been introduced by foresters to combat desertification and is now a widespread weed in most areas of western and central parts of the country.Natural HabitatP. chilensis is found in the arid and semi-arid regions with ground water of between 3 and 10 m below the surface, such as drainage channels along ground water sinks. It has been observed to grow in seawater salinity. It is a common ruderal weed, coming up singly and in groups along roadsides, round habitations, on refuse dumps and in other disturbed habitats.

Geographic distribution Native : Argentina, Chile, Peru, UruguayExotic : Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, United States of America

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lead in toys

here's something i picked up from the net. this metal leads to a whole lot of stuff including cancers. parents BEWARE.

Toxic toy story
By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna, 15/11/2007 Source: The Hindu Business Line
When global toy manufacturer Mattel recalled millions of popular children's toys sold under its Fisher-Price brand in mid-August and September this year, as they were found to contain dangerous levels of toxic elements, concerns were raised for the first time in India about the toxicity of toys.A study on the toxic elements present in toys sold in Indian markets has revealed shockingly high levels of lead and cadmium — in varying concentrations — in all of the 111 toys collected from Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai last year. The study was conducted by Delhi-based NGO Toxics Link. According to Dr Abhay Kumar of Toxics Link and a co-author of the study, lead and cadmium act as stabilisers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys. Manufacturers also use PVC to add bright colours to the toys in order to attract children. He emphasises that when chewed or sucked by children, these toys put them at great risk.Health riskIndia has more than 130 million children below the age of six — an age when children chew and even swallow substances. This makes a large section of the population prone to lead and cadmium poisoning from toys. A large amount of these metals in the bloodstream could lead to complications such as brittleness of bones, mental disorders and even cancer, states Kumar.According to Prof Veena Kalra, Head of the Department of Paediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), exposure to lead toxicity in children could pose several health hazards such as impaired hearing and growth, affect the child’s IQ, lead to nerve disorders, anaemia and even cause death.The government has confirmed that several Chinese toys sold in the market contain high levels of cadmium and lead. The issue was discussed in the Rajya Sabha recently when Minister of State for Health Panabaka Lakshmi confirmed newspaper reports about toxic toys from China.Observing that most toys in Chennai and Mumbai were being imported from China, the Minister stated that lead is a known neuro and haematological toxin that can lead to delayed development and lower IQ in children, while cadmium primarily affects the kidneys.Lack of enforceable standardWith regard to safety guidelines for toys, the Minister said the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has published three standards. But, India does not have an enforceable standard for toys and it is doubtful if toy manufacturers have bothered to apply for the ISI mark. According to the Toxics Link study, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai have big toy markets. In fact, Mumbai is the regional hub for plastic toys. Most of the soft toys found there are made of PVC, and Chinese toys dominate. Unbranded toys have a huge demand among lower income groups.At upmarket shops, mostly branded toys are sold. Following the international outcry, Mattel withdrew 2,000 toys in its Batman series from the Indian market.But as the bulk of toys circulating in the cities come from the unorganised industry with no regulatory control, the crisis is far from over. Over 1,000 units are in the small-sector and a larger number in the cottage sector. The use of cheap recycled plastic is a cause for grave concern. Given that the toy industry volume is estimated at $1 billion in the organised sector and about $1.5 billion in the unorganised sector, it is alarming that toy manufacturers have not yet registered with the BIS.Cost of safetyBut manufacturers have their own explanation. “The BIS guidelines with regard to toy production are that it is self-regulatory and not mandatory. Also, toy manufacturers don’t register for the ISI mark for their products because it is an expensive procedure,” says Paresh Chawala, President, Toy Association of India.The association consists of 600 members, 250 wholesalers and 350 distributors. Chawala, however, agrees that in view of the ongoing controversy, the industry would need to take a more proactive approach, keeping in mind consumer concerns. “We held a meeting recently and decided to get all the information relating to the BIS rules so we can start the process for getting the ISI mark,” he says.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Environment Day celebrations, June 5

heck no! another environment day. so what would we see. poster making competition, cycle rallies, tree(sapling) plantation and a whole lot of government babus and netas extolling the virtues of saving environment and telling everybody that we should save the planet for our children blah! blah! blah!.

all these babus and netas and the junta they address would come to designated venues of various functions in air conditioned cars, buses, two wheelers etc.

oh my gosh! nobody seemed to notice that vehicles run on petrol/diesel, burning which releases carbon dioxide. the amount of Co2 which a vehicle emits to reach a function would be far greater than what the sapling will consume which has been planted(assuming it stays to grow into a tree) but why would anybody notice that when what people are noticing is their names and photos coming in the nextday newspaper and a sense of having achieved something by doing their moral duty.
poster making/painting competitions are done on paper which is thrown right after the competition. tea/coffee/water is served in plastic/thermocol cups, sancks are served in plastic plates etc, which will then be made into a nice heap and burnt after the event is over. All these emit Co2. :(
Well in Haryana this the practice and if anybody proves me wrong then i am ready to rewrite the whole script.

So why does everybody make the right noises and does nothing. i feel it is because we don't CARE a damn for environment. and why don't we care? it is because we were never sensitised by our parents, teachers and society when we were young. we feel our job towards environment is when we can make the right noises and at best plant a sapling in some public function.

i think the best way for states to celebrate this day is to ban all functions. we will be doing more for environment this way then when we organise functions.

at an individual level we can start garbage segregation at our households, we can start carrying a cloth bag to the market, we can switch off all our electricty for 1 hour every week..........

what we can do are divided into countless possibilities. what we need is a will. when the WILL is not there at the individual level how do we expect it at the state level and thus we end up make the right noises and doing nothing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Washing cars

There was a news item in the indian express that people in gurgaon who wud be caught washing cars on public roads would be put behind bars(jail bars and not pub bars as most ggn'ites wd like ) this has been done as some intelligent people felt that washing cars was the biggest culprit to road damage. (hmmm :-)

interesting news and throws up a few questions

1. who wd catch these people?
2 who wd authenticate the same?
3. suppose i have my car parked inside the house i.e. away from the public road and i wash my car is it ok then?
4. how wd it be proved that the water from the car wash led to road damage and not inferior material used.
5. what about washing verandas which is a favourite hobby of most middle class homes. they feel washing verandas a sure shot way of keeping the house clean. the verandas in most household links o the driveway which is cemented and extends all the way to the road. so every morning there are countless bais washing with great gusto and the memsahibs supervising to see if any sq cm area does not get left.
6 and what about the garbage burning on the roadside by households. the heat from the burning loosens the tar on the road and lead to potholes.

well so many questions are flooding my mind but then i a mere mortal. most of us want somebody outside the regulate our social behaviour and those trying to regulate us try to do their best with results just a lot of smoke and little fire.

wish it said all those who wash their cars will be taken behind beer bars and will be made to drink silly and will then be allowed to find their way home. the fear of getting runover will be higher than threatning people that fir's will be lodged against them . Amen