Environmental Concerns

Discover the Eco-friendly
Ways for Celebrations

 
We just celebrated Diwali a few weeks ago. Since time immemorial, Diwali has been celebrated as the Festival of Lights. It is a festival all Indians irrespective of caste and creed look forward to. Diwali is season of fun and revelry. It is a time of blessing and thanksgiving. That is when families, relatives, friends and neighbours come together to celebrate. The fun and revelry associated with Diwali is unrivalled among the festivals of India.

This year the celebrations were less smokey and noisy because of new rules being enforced by the civic authorities. But should we not voluntarily choose to celebrate the Diwali in an eco friendly way? Please spare a few minutes thinking about celebrating it in a more enjoyable and healthy way. Let us stop equating celebrations with noise and smoke of fireworks which are a serious health and environmental hazard. We must switch from toxic and polluting ways of celebrating to benign and cleaner ways.

Celebrating Diwali with crackers was not our tradition. When Lord Rama returned to Ayodha, there were no fire crackers to greet him. Diwali is a festival of lights and was never a festival of crackers and smoke. As time passed fireworks became part of these celebrations. However today, with the increased awareness about the air and noise pollution being caused by fire crackers, it is time to minimise/avoid their use.

Pollution from fire works

Although Diwali brings light into our lives both literally and figuratively, the lighting of fire crackers often does not. On the contrary, it could pose a few health hazards, air and sound pollution along with a few mishaps. And that is precisely where all of us need to be a little watchful so that we ensure that we have an environment friendly, safe and enjoyable Diwali. Unfortunately for us, bursting of more noisy crackers during Diwali is now more of an opportunity for “showing off” or display ones wealth than enjoyment or celebration. Data from Pollution control boards and hospitals show that during Diwali air pollution more than doubles and big cities like Delhi and Mumbai literally become gas chambers. The level of suspended particles in the air increases alarmingly, causing eye, throat and nose problems. Although most of us do not feel the immediate impact, these problems can later lead to serious health problems. Fire crackers release heavy metals among other toxic substances which are very harmful. The noise levels during Diwali often cross limits, which may lead to defeaning.
 

  Pollutants released by bursting of different crackers and their impacts
  Pollutants Can lead to
Suspended Particulate Matter Asthma, restrictive lung diseases, pneumoconiosis, carciogenic
Respirable Particulate Matter Respiratory illness like chronic bronchitis, asthma and heart diseases
Sulphur Oxides Eye burning, headache, respiratory problems like pulmonary emphysema, heart diseases and carciogenic
Nitrous Oxides Lung irritation, chest tightness, respiratory allergies
Copper Inhalation of copper dust and fume cause irritation in the respiratory tract
Cadmium Poisonous if inhaled or ingested. Can damage the kidneys, cause anaemia, increase blood pressure, carcinogenic
Lead Diseases of central nervous system can cause mental retardation, carcinogenic
Magnesium Poisonous if ingested. Dust, fume cause metal fume fever, particles embedded in skin cause gas gangrene.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, 95 per cent of the crackers available in the market violate noise and air pollution norms. Fireworks likesparklers (phulzadi) and anar (Bhusnala, Paus) contain highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead in addition to other metals like copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium. Others have arsenic, mercury, chromium and iron oxides which create severe pollution once set fire.

Please see first table which shows the pollutants released by bursting of crackers and their impact on humans.

  Why children are more vulnerable to air pollution?
Their breathing rate is higher relative to their body weight and surface area, they inhale more polluted relative to their body size.
Children spend more time outdoors, especially during the day, when pollution levels are the highest
They are 3 times more active than adults when outdoor
They are closer to the ground and hence inhale more automotive exhaust and heavy pollutants
Their lungs are still developing; their smaller and delicate airways are more easily obstructed when irritated
They breathe more through the mouth, which reduces filtration and allows more particles into the lungs
They breathe more through the mouth, which reduces filtration and allows more particles into the lungs

 

  The impact of noise on health of human:
Hearing impairment
Speech intelligibility (when noise prevents us from being heard or understood)
Sleep disturbance
Hypertension
Mental illness (in terms of accelerating or intensifying mental disorders)
Poor work Performance


It should be noted that children are worst affected by the pollution during Diwali and are single largest group affected by these pollutants. Elderly people are also severely affected as they are likely to experience asthama, breathlessness and in some cases even heart attacks.


Pollution from noise

High decibel levels of noise due to bursting of crackers is known to cause restlessness, anger, fidgetiness, impulsive behaviour and over-reaction to situations. Most crackers used have more than 80 dB noise level that can cause temporary hearing loss, says K K Agarwal, chairman, Health Care Foundation, New Delhi. Scientific data suggests that noise pollution can lead to hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart-attack and sleep disturbances.

Other than human beings the silent sufferers are the trees; coating of smoke on the leaves blocks photosynthetic process leading to severe damage. Birds and animals unable to cope with the toxic smoke and loud noises often flee from the cities.

How can we celebrate Diwali in environmentally benign manner?

One of the suggestions is avoid bursting crackers and light lamps made from clay. Rangoli also can be drawn with natural ingredients like wheat or rice or flowers mixed with natural colours of turmeric (haaldi) henna (mehendi) and sindhur for colour.

Why create additional garbage from gift wrappings? Do you know that foils used for the wrapping are non recyclable? So do give gifts wrapped in brown paper bags or similar recyclable paper.

Just make sure, the Festival of Lights does not bring darkness by polluting our surrounding and affecting our health adversely.

Next year around, we plan to inform you in advance of the festivals, what you need to do to celebrate them in eco friendly ways. Doing so is certainly a step forward in becoming a civil society.

Wishing You a Happy and Smokeless Diwali with Lights, Flowers, Sweets, Friends and Joy!



 
 

Dr. Maya Mahajan,
Associate Manager
SP Godrej Marine Ecology Centre
maya@godrej.com

 

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