Hazardous Chemicals in the Homes and Backyard!


Some negative legacies of Science and Technology

Science and technology have come as a mixed blessing for humankind. They have been used for legitimate social and economic gains and development, but also misused for greedy development and acquisition of regional military superiority and political power by some nations.

The scientific and technological advancements of the twentieth century have also resulted in the generation of some new types of substances in the human ecosystem called chemicals and synthetics. According to the United Nations Environment Program, worldwide millions and trillions of tonnes of hazardous substances are produced annually. There is no sector of human development activity that does not make use of some toxic chemicals and materials, which eventually end up as hazardous waste. They pose a grave risk to human health and the environment. Hazardous chemicals and wastes do not remain confined to their place of origin. They are transported long distances by the atmosphere and passed on to the human food chain in the ecosystem. Yes, millions of chemicals might have got flushed out when you went to excrete, I went to excrete and we all would for once. What’s more shocking than to find more than 15 pesticides found in fogs, which are inhaled by us casually?

A significant amount of DDT has bioaccumulated in cereals and pulses, the meat and milk consumed by human beings. Significant concentrations of DDT have been found in the body fat of human populations all over the globe. Human breast milk often contains more toxic material than dairy milk. Now this is what requires a stare straight in the face! How could science intoxicate the mothers’ milk? Studies have found and reported neurotoxic chemical compounds in the products of perfumes and cosmetics used by women.

Paper production worldwide produces several million tonnes of chemical cocktails every year, so lethal that one drop in a swimming pool would kill a fish. Hazardous heavy metal cadmium is used in food processing equipment, kitchenware enamel, pottery glasses and plastics. People are exposed to heavy metal lead in everyday life through paints and dyes, toys and newspaper, solder and batteries, lead pipe water and fumes of automobile exhausts. The highly toxic chemicals and complexes are added to paints, copying and printing paper inks, adhesives and plastics to improve their flexibility.

High levels of such complexes were reported in breakfast cereals in Sweden and Mexico as a result of contamination by modern packaging materials. When the start of the day itself is totally intoxicated, how can a person look forward to a healthy day?

No corner of the world is free of the chemical sins and legacies of science. Hazardous chemicals have even reached the poles in the Arctic and the Antarctica. They have reached the most serene and the cleanest of the destinations on this planet. DDT and PCBs are present in polar bears, seals, and penguin birds, which are nowhere to be seen nowadays. Large amounts of radioactive wastes have been dumped in the Antarctica. They will remain radioactive for thousands of years to come. There are tens of thousands of square kilometres of land on earth contaminated by dumping of hazardous wastes. Cleaning them up will require billions of dollars but, the politicians and economists rather cleaning these up will dump further for they overweight economy to ecology. There is the serious risk of contamination of groundwater in these regions. There were reports of anencephaly (babies born without the brain) from populations living near hazardous waste dump sites in Mexico City, which were closed decades ago. Imagine the extent of effect even after a decade of being closed. Civilisation is practically sitting on the edge of a manmade volcano of dumped chemical and nuclear wastes-the worst legacies of science.

Hazardous substances pose a grave risk to human health at all times- during generation and storage as well as during disposal and it is a risk not only to the present generation but also to future generations as it affects heredity materials. Only a few parts per billion of the potentially toxic compounds may be sufficient to cause a health hazard following brief exposure. Some chemicals are implicated in weakening the human immune system and impairment in foetal development. A correlation between the occurrence of cancer and the workers who handled vinyl chloride in PVC (used in making pipes) manufacturing industries has been confirmed.

Several hazardous chemicals have a long residency period in the environment. DDT remains for about 20 years and hence continues to threaten life even if it was banned decades ago. The effect of radiation exposure and some toxic substances like lead and cadmium is cumulative. They continue to be built up in the body over time before they reach a critical level, which causes poisoning. The more serious health problem associated with hazardous wastes is chronic and latent effects. Symptoms of effects may arise 20 to 25 years after exposure, as in the case of asbestos poisoning and radiation effects. These include birth defects, genetic and neurological disorders.

Misuse of scientific knowledge is an act of violence against nature that must almost inevitably lead to violence against men in society. There exist on earth several institutions created by the man a symbol of his scientific feats, which are potential time bombs ready to blow up civilisation at the slightest of human error and mismanagement or carelessness.

The scientific achievements made in the field of nuclear science and fission technology, which caused the atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1946, will ever remain a “black day” in the history of science and technology.

The scientific developments, which spelt technological disasters at Bhopal (India) in December 1984, can never be justified. Thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste lie buried and entombed at the site of the disaster, which will remain alive for centuries. Their effects are not just restricted to the main disaster event, but these disastrous effects go on and on for decades and centuries for generations to come. This happens through the genetic damages caused by the chemicals and radioactive complexes. Thus, chemicals are a threat to somebody’s life, family and following generations to show up. They are a curse!

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