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Vol. 23 No. 2 - April 2017

Let’s save the self from self-inflicted pollution

By: *K. Kohli, FNA

Man by nature wants to lead a comfortable, healthy, long life. This is possible through development. If we do not develop or develop very slow, we may not have access to several things, products and facilities that are needed for making our life comfortable. On the contrary, if we develop very fast, we will have to face problems like air-, water- and noise- pollution, social disparities, congestion, resource depletion and unrest. So we have to look for sustainable way of development/growth.

We tend to accuse industry and vehicles for environmental problems and the government machinery for inaction. We tend to accuse others, little realizing that our own actions are more harmful than those caused by others. We have hardly realized our own contribution towards inviting problems for the self. Instead of becoming a part of the solution we end-up becoming a part of the problem for the self. I propose to share as to how we normally inflict ourselves with pollution and suggest as to what we should save ourselves from it. About 80% of our lives are spent indoors – homes, labs, workplaces etc. So, what-so-ever we do in our houses or workplaces is bound to affect us more than the pollution outdoor.

Today, without doubt, we are in the age of chemicals. We can’t think of anything (food, cosmetics, wearable, medicines etc) that is devoid of chemicals. Daily new products/brands are added to the market. Due to vigorous advertising, we get tempted to the new product. At the same time, we remain worried about the diseases like cancer, heart failure, birth-defects and nervous disorders. It all depends on ones attitude as to which type of life one wants to lead. The risks of our actions and likings depend on (a) genetic makeup and (b) product of dose and exposure of the body to the toxic substance we use. It is up to us to measure the risk to benefit ratio of our action. Some risks like dying the hair, smoking are under our control, while others like depletion of ozone in the stratosphere or global warming or pesticide buildup in the food products are not in our individual hands. The resistance or susceptibility of the body depends on the genetic make-up that our parents have given to us, our body weight, stage and dose of the toxic material we get exposed to  and of course our lifestyle. In this write-up I try to touch upon some such actions which are exclusively in our own hands.

What we generally do:

 Many of our houses, in strict sense, are more or less places of Pollution. Such houses are termed as Sick-home-syndromes”. In such houses we lay wall-to-wall carpets. These carpets are meant for temperate climates, free of dust. We largely being in the tropical/sub-tropical zone do not need such hygroscopic fibrous flooring that retains humidity and serves as a store-house of microbial/fungal spores and carpet mites. The micro dust serves as RSPM (respirable particulate matter which is most dangerous for our lung function). Likewise, our houses have large windows which we hardly open for fresh air. Instead, we keep them covered with thick double curtains and do not let in even the sunlight. During dry summers we use desert coolers whose stale water is hardly changed and that serves as a source of microbial spores, pollen grains and trichomes from outside into the room. For use, without taking care we switch on the fan and invite the pollutants inside the room. We should switch on the water first and then the fan. For switching off the cooler, same sequence i.e. water followed by fan is better.

Many of us do not mind smoking cigarettes inside our homes, thereby, polluting indoor air and endangering the lives of our family members by making them “passive smokers”. Some do not stop tobacco smoking and chewing, in spite of vigorous campaigning against it by the Government. Perhaps even educated people do not know that tobacco contains 43 carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) of class A (known to cause cancer in human beings) as per EPA (Environment Protection Agency of USA).   

In order to keep slim many of us prefer to avoid intake of sugar and opt for artificial sweeteners containing as partyl phenylalanine or saccharine. The safety of use of such artificial sweeteners is very controversial. Prolonged use is harmful. Likewise, we do not mind talking for very long on cell phones fixing it directly on to the ears or keeping in our chest pocket, little realizing the bad effect of electromagnetic frequency radiations like those of microwave. We eat sweets with silver-foil adhered on its surface, little knowing that it is less of silver, more of lead and aluminum – excess of which leads to avoidable toxicity. Similarly, we are fond of tinned food including juices and soups. The seam of the tin-container is impregnated with lead to check the leakage. The lead ions in acidic medium get dissolved in the food. Intake of such food leads to lead toxicity.

Food shiners, polishing dyes are nothing but the waxes and synthetic food colours (gulabi, hari, jamuni burfi etc.) that attract us are mostly the azo dyes known to cause cancer and genetic disorders. The face-paints that our youth is fond of for seeking attention especially during cricket matches or participating in “face-paint competitions” are dissolved in dangerous organic solvents like benzene (known for causing Leukemia – a type of blood cancer), xylene (dries out skin causing blisters), toluene (causes skin irritation). These also contain lot of lead that is known for lowering intelligence and cognitive power. Other sources of lead are gasoline, lead adulterated tin-platting, soldering, batteries, joints of water pipes etc. 

Some Common adultrants of foods:



Cereals (wheat and rice)

Mud, grit, soapstone

Dals - Pulses

Kesari Dal, Metanil yellow (dye)

Haldi powder

Lead chromate

Dhania powder

Powdered cattle dung, horse-dung, starch

Black pepper

Dried papaya seeds

Red Chilli powder

Saw dust, brick powder

Mustard seeds

Argemone seeds

Edible oils

Cheaper oils like mineral oils, argemone seed oil


Water, extract fat, addition of starch


Jaggery / sugar

Vanaspati ghee

Paraffin wax, hydrocarbon

Pure ghee

Vanaspati, Paraffin wax,

Food grains

Ergot, Dhatura seeds


Marble powder

Some common practices in food industry:

  • Free use of unpermitted synthetic colours like bright green, orange, pink and even brown for brightening up the edible product.

  • Toxin, Lead chromate is added to “khoya”.

  • Adultrant like Orange II and Rhodamin-B are used in Rasgulla, halwa despite the ban.

  • Metinil yellow is used in ice-creams, laddoos, jalebies, biryani etc.

  • Green dye is used to color saunf (fennel)

  • Roasted channas are rolled into yellow dye used to coloue pagries

  • Lead chromate is used for coloring pea, caspicum, lady’s finger etc

  • Chicken corners color the chicken tikka etc to give a blood color despite prohibition under PFA Act-1954 

To ward off crawling insects like cockroaches we prefer to Permethyrine containing products which though work like natural plant product, Pyrethrin but is regarded as carcinogen of group C (EPA). Most of us do not fail to apply hair dye on to our heads, for deceiving others of our age. Most of the hair colors / dyes contain Ammonia, Hydrogen peroxide (for initial bleaching of hair), Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (Protein Precipitant) and lead that causes lead toxicity. To keep the contents creamy, most of the cosmetic creams contain ethylene glycol (which is break oil) as anti-freezing agent and hydroquinone that causes allergy, blurred vision and slows reflective movements apart from causing fatigue. Some of the sun-screen lotions and beauty cream for making the stem fairer have such elements that disturb hormonal balance and consequential health problems. During Holi festival, the coloured powders we use are a source of heavy metal toxicity

Holi Color


Possible health effects


Mica, glass sand

Corneal abrasion, loss of memory, eye-sight corneal ulcer


Lead Oxide

Renal failure, learning disability


Copper Sulphate

Temporary blindness, Eye Allergy


Chromium Iodide

Bronchial Asthma, high BP, kidney damage


Aluminium Bromide

Alzheimer's and cancer

Whom do we paint? We paint our friends and relatives and get painted. Why not to prepare our own Holi Colors? Some possible hints include, Arrow root, Talcum powder, wheat flour, ‘multani mitti’, turmeric powder, sandal wood, extracts of marigold, amaltas petals, indigo-blue, beet-roots, mint, coriander, rose petals.

Some tips for healthy living:

Safe Remedies: Instead of using the organic/synthetic pesticides at homes, we should follow the following tips for controlling different categories of pests.


Squeeze lemon juice at pt. of entry and, leave the peel there ; use chalk powder, damp coffee, charcoal dust, haldi (turmeric) or pepper


Put boric acid in cracks / holes switch boards etc. and plug them. Trap by greasing inner side of wide mouth bottle with potato or stale wine; hang naphthalene ball in the kitchen/bathroom-drains or simply cover the drains with some material like wood or stone

House fly

Paste honey on a piece of yellow cardboard and hang it. Housefly will stick to it. Or make the room dark leaving a slit of the door or window open and shoo the flies out.

Silver fish

Use borax in book racks, wardrobes. Boric acid is safe for vertebrates

Stored food pests

dry food and store in air tight container or add boric acid powder or mix


Terminator with UV-A lamp, mosquito net, bath before retiring

We should avoid the following:

  • Drinking or bathing in chlorinated water and first flush of tap water to avoid bleaching of hair.

  • In northern Indian belt, fluoridated tooth paste or better change brands every month to avoid fluorosis.

  • Excessive use of cell-phone direct on the ear (use ear-phone); for long talks prefer landline.

  • Agenomoto / Ascent (tastemaker), synthetic colored foods, highly spicy food, Tinned food, food deep-refried in same cooking oil.

  • Smoking of tobacco and excessive hard liquor.

  • Storing food in polythene and plastic container especially the oily cooked food.

  • Eating salad in Restaurants.

  • Using cheap cosmetics (better make your own).

  • Laying carpets especially in summers and rainy seasons.

  • Using cheap holi gulal (better make your own).

Some substitutes of beauty products: 

  • Besan–a very good Cleanser; Haldi- a good natural disinfectant.

  • Milk Cream- replenishes body oil; Honey- a strong cleanser, nourisher and healer.

  • Glycerin with rose water is a good moisturizer.

  • Multani mitti (Fullers earth) removes dead cells of the skin.

  • Sandal wood improves skin texture; Natural oil nourishes body skin; Un-boiled milk has a strong cleansing power.

  • Neem datun saves infection in buccal cavity.

  • Hair cleansing with Reetha, Amla and shikakai.

  • Fruits and vegetables good source of vitamins, minerals and medium of removing wastes from body.

  • Drinking clean water is the best for getting rid of toxins of the body.

*Vice-chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, Punjab, India, [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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