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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Noisy crackers release metal dust, play havoc with Mumbaikars’ health

SPARE OUR EARS

The next time you light a rocket or a sparkler, remember that some amount of metal is loaded on to firecrackers to produce the bright red, blue and yellow colours they give out. These metals are poisonous and banned under the Hazardous Chemicals Act as they can cause a host of problems for people with low immunity or those with chronic ailments. 

    Dr Amita Athavale, head of department of chest medicine at KEM Hospital, said, "Metals 
such as copper and cadmium are added in firecrackers to produce colours when they are lit. These metals settle on tree leaves and other surfaces in dust form. For a long time thereafter, they remain in the environment, are inhaled continuously and affect the respiratory tract of people — especially those who already suffer from some problems." 
    Many components of firecrackers — aluminium, sulphur dioxide, potassium nitrate and barium, for instance — can cause a string of health hazards ranging from headache and breathing difficulties to serious disorders following years of exposure. (See 'Lights, Sound, Chemical Reaction'). 
    Worse, noise from crackers — especially those with highvelocity — can cause hearing damage, said city doctors. Several cases of eardrum damage are so severe that they have to be operated upon. According to ENT specialists, firecrack
ers can cause three types of hearing loss — adaptation, temporary and permanent. "Most people feel numbness in the ears for a few seconds after very loud bombs are burst. But there are many who cannot hear properly for about 24 hours and a few for whom the loss is much more permanent," said Dr Vikas Agarwal, ENT surgeon at BSES Hospital in Andheri. 
    Several also end up with a buzzing noise in their ear 
which refuses to abate. "Pressure and noise from the crackers, especially from a long ladi (string of crackers) or a sutli bomb, can cause timmitor or a permanent buzzing sound," said Dr Nishit Shah, ENT surgeon at Bombay Hospital. 
    "I have had cases of people who have suffered holes in the eardrums because of a direct injury or a tear because of sound pressure. Such cases have to be operated upon and still may not regain hearing 
completely," he said. 
    Breathing disorders, too, skyrocket, especially among asthma patients. Madhav Sharma, therefore, celebrates Diwali in self-imposed solitude. The 81-year-old confines himself to his sixth-floor flat and shuts all doors and windows. On the other hand, Nandini Khare, a 79-year-old Mahim resident, will leave for her Panvel flat this weekend. Her doctor has asked her to be careful as she has only recently reco
vered from pneumonia. 
    Dr Athavale says avoiding exposure might not be possible. "We tell patients to increase medication and teach them 'early identification of symptoms'... People should understand their short-term celebration affects others in the long run. One can come up with innovative ideas such as laser shows or community celebrations with fewer crackers rather than gifting trouble to others with fireworks.'' 

LIGHTS, SOUND, CHEMICAL REACTION 
TYPES OF FIRECRACKERS AND THEIR COMPOSITION 
    BOMBS 
These include atom bombs, sutli bombs and even a chain or a string of a thousand crackers 
Chemicals A black powder, also known as gun powder, which contains charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate. A tight paper tube with a fuse is used to light the powder 

Metal A composition used in a firecracker might have aluminum instead of or in addition to charcoal to brighten the explosion 
AERIAL FIREWORKSThese include all types of rockets or those that shoot up in the air and then explode 
Chemicals 
These, too, contain the black powder which includes charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate 
Metal 
Aluminium 

SPARKLERS 
These include all fireworks that burn up to a minute and produce extremely bright and showery light such as anar, chakri and sparklers 
Chemicals These include charcoal, sulphur, aluminum perchlorate or barium nitrate. A variety of chemicals are added to produce vibrant colours 
Metals Iron or steel powder. Also, it is very common for fireworks to contain aluminum zinc or magnesium dust to create bright, shimmering sparks 

HEALTH HAZARDS OF CHEMICALS AND METALS PRESENT IN FIRECRACKERS 

ALUMINIUM High levels could cause toxicity. People with kidney problems and older people are more vulnerable Effects: It can cause skeletal and neuromuscular problems, apart 

    from weakness, bone 
    pain, digestive problems, 
    confusion, headache, 
    heartburn, emotional instability, disturbed sleep 
SULPHUR DIOXIDE 
Exposure to very high levels can be life-threatening 
Effects It can cause heart, eye, hearing, liver and kidney damage, stomach disorder, suffocation and disturb blood circulation 
POTASSIUM NITRATE 

It can irritate respiratory track 
Effects It can cause shortness of breath, gastric and stomach pain, dizziness, bloody diarrhea, convulsions, mental impairment, redness or itching of skin or eyes 
BARIUM Certain compounds like barium acetate are highly poisonous 
Effects Mild exposure can cause muscle fatigue or weakness, difficulty in breathing, blood pressure changes, facial numbness, gastrointestinal disorders, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps








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