Did you know that more
than 70,000 chemicals are used across the globe, some naturally occurring and
some manufactured? Geeta Padmanabhan finds out from experts how these impact
minutes. That’s all it takes for Dr. S. Ravichandran, associate professor,
Department of Chemistry, Veltech University, to convince you that your life is
in terrible danger. “Toxic chemicals are all around us: in the air we breathe,
in the food we eat and the products we use,” he says, with the certainty of
someone who has spent a lifetime studying chemicals. “They are used to produce
almost everything we use, from paper and plastics to medicines and food, to
gasoline and steel and electronic equipment.” The 70,000 plus chemicals used
across the globe are a mix of naturally occurring and manmade ones. If you use
them judiciously and dispose them of carefully, you improve life. If you throw
them around carelessly and improperly, you endanger humans, plants and animals.
He gives examples.
Unfiltered toxic chemicals are released into the environment by industries
producing electricity (particularly coal-based), manufacturing chemicals,
making materials like steel and paper, and extracting natural resources like
oil and gas. Toxic chemicals are also released by farms using lab-made
pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, which contaminate food, air, water and
soil, when they run off from crops and enter the surroundings. You don’t even
have to step out to collect toxins, he says. “We’re exposed to harmful chemicals
in perfumes, shampoos, air-fresheners, cleaning agents, furniture, appliances,
frying pans, food-and-beverage containers.” And then there is active/passive
enough for us to break out in a sweat. But he adds: Heavy metals that damage the
ecosystem are present in the waste water that the metal-cleaning, mining and
electroplating, paper/pulp and paint making, textiles, tanneries and e-waste
recycling industries release. Drinking polluted water, filling dental cavities,
breathing contaminated air, and eating food grown in contaminated soil are all
entry methods for heavy metals.
toxins accumulate in the body with time.
expose ourselves to chemical poisoning simply by stepping on to our
traffic-choked roads. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
says there’s “sufficient evidence” that exposure to outdoor air pollution
(diesel exhaust, solvents, metals, dust) causes lung/bladder cancer, heart
diseases, coughing, chronic bronchitis and premature death in people with heart/lung
study conducted by Dr Arbinder Kumar Singal, paediatric urologist, MGM
Hospital, Navi Mumbai, gave proof of the growing incidence of genital
abnormality among boys, possibly because of the exposure to endocrine disruptor
chemicals. Known as phthalates and bisphenol-A, these chemicals are used in
plastic bottles, food wraps, cosmetics and toys.
absorb toxins through lungs (inhalation), skin (dermal absorption), and/or
mouth (ingestion). They enter the bloodstream, and get stored in tissues. If
you are lucky, they reach the liver and get excreted. Or they settle down in
their new homes to disrupt hormones (mimic/block/interfere with estrogen,
androgen, thyroid), cause or aggravate cancer, damage brain cells, leading to
developmental/behavioural disabilities, particularly in kids, and cause
respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, and emphysema.
there any chance of putting off these death warrants? One is Chelation therapy,
says Dr. Ravichandran. It’s a process by which a molecule encircles and sticks
to the metal and removes it from the tissue. Cilantro helps in removing heavy
metals, restoring the normal functions of body cells. Green algae contains
Chlorella, whose three-layered cell-wall of cellulose microfibrils helps in
heavy metal detox. Garlic has sulphur which oxidises mercury, cadmium and lead
and makes them water-soluble. Malic acid, found in unripe fruit, sour candies,
raw-apple cider, and vinegar, helps to reduce the aluminium toxicity of the
brain, and helps to avert Alzheimer’s disease. Pectin in apple-peel, bananas,
grapes, okra, beetroot, carrots and pith resist heavy metal absorption. Make
sure they are organic. And why not reduce vehicle-use.