Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
Ana M Soto, professor at the Tufts Medical School at Massachusetts in the us, made an important discovery while
working with breast cancer cells in 1989. She found that some of the tissues were proliferating without stimulation when stored in plastic tubes. An
investigation indicated that the plastic tubes had something to do with the proliferation. When the manufacturer refused to disclose the makeup of the tubes, Soto did her bit of investigation, which incriminated a synthetic chemical, nonylphenol(np). Subsequent
studies showed np to be a carcinogen, and np use has since been regulated in many
developed countries. The chemical, however, has widespread use in the developing world, including India.
When synthesized with ethylene oxide, np forms the compound, nonylphenol
ethoxylate (npeo), which is used in a host of common products including pesticides, plastics, leather, textiles, paints
and contraceptives. When the compound degrades, the ethylene oxide breaks down fast, but np is a far more
enduring commodity. The chemical accumulates in water bodies, and according to scientists, aquatic organisms take in
class='UCASE'>npfaster than they eliminate them.
This has led to regulations against npeo s in developed countries, including Japan, Canada, and
European Union countries. New Zealand is contemplating restrictions and draft guidelines have been prepared in the us
to regulate npeo release into water bodies.
But there are no regulations governing npeo use in India. The list of hazardous substances
monitored by union ministry of environment and forests (moef) does not include this chemical. The ministry has not
carried out any studies on the chemical, and many of its officials seemed to be ignorant about npeo. Scientists of the
Central Pollution Control Board seemed puzzled when Down To Earth asked them about the chemical. A senior moef
says "There are so many chemicals; we cannot keep track of all." Studies conducted by research institutes in the country however testify
to its toxic nature (see box Soluble evidence)
But why is npeo use so widespread? The explanation lies in its chemical qualities. In the chemist's
jargon npeo is a non-ionic surfactant. For manufacturers of a variety of products, including pesticides, this means
that npeos can be used to reduce surface tension. Sunil Singhal of Chemical Systems Technologies, a speciality
chemical formulator based in Delhi, explains, "npeo ensures that once the pesticide is sprayed it does not form droplets but spreads out evenly so that the plant is evenly protected." Similarly when used in dyes and paints, npeo
ensures an even coat.
The chemical's make-up also makes it fit for detergents ethylene oxide moles have a propensity to attach themselves to water,
while np is known to bind itself to dirt and oil. These qualities fit make
A variety of cleaners, including
class='UCASE'>npeofit the textile industry's bill it's used for scouring, dye levelling and as a fibre lubricant.
those used to polish metals, glass and floors, also have npeo. S o do some personal care products.
Even contraceptives use a npeo derivative, nonoxynol-9 (N9), for its lubrication and spermicidal
properties. who has, however, warned that N9 offers no additional protection against pregnancies.
class='UCASE'>whoresearchers, found instead that N9 could lead to epithelial damage in women, thereby increasing their chances of
npeo every year. Of this, 20 per cent is consumed by the textile industry as auxiliary chemicals, 22 per cent goes into
pesticides, 15 per cent into metal cleaning products, 18 per cent is used by leather manufacturers and the remaining 25 per cent is shared between
makers of paints, detergents and personal care products.
The demand for np is on the rise in India. The union commerce ministry's statistics show that
import of np (and similar chemicals and their isomers) has grown from 818.44 tonnes in
2000, to 23,843.52 tonnes in 2006--a whopping 2,813 per cent growth. np, in itself, has very little use. So it's sound
to surmise that most--if not all--of the chemical would have been used in npeo production.
The chemical has, however, become a problem for many who used it in their products, especially textile manufacturers. The
European Union, the largest market for India's textile exports, has begun acting tough. According to Ulhas Nimkar, ceo
of Texanlabs, a Pune-based certification company which certifies a lot of textiles headed for Europe on behalf of importers there,
class='UCASE'>npeois becoming a big problem for Indian exporters. "The European Commission's standards specify that apparel weighing a
kg should not contain more than one milligram of npeo. But individual European companies have even stricter
standards. This becomes a huge problem for exporters as the chemical cannot be removed after a number of washes," he says.
C N Sivaramakrishnan, secretary of the Mumbai-based Society of Dyers and Colourists admits to the problem. "Traditionally, the
industry depended on npeo as they were cost effective. Alternatives like lauryl alcohol ethoxylates (
class='UCASE'>lae)and fatty alcohol ethoxylates are gradually being used but they are about 10 to 15 per cent expensive," he says.
Sivaramakrishnan says that some larger textile mills in the country have switched to lae while most small units
continue to use npeo.
K Silvavaj assistant director, Tirupur Textile Committee's points to another problem most mill owners are not aware of the
European regulations. "Most textile auxiliaries do not label the contents of their products. So textile units do not know what they are handling," he
Labelling is also an issue with the pesticide industry. Manufacturers only name the active ingredient of the pesticide such as
endosulphan or heptachlor but do not mention the surfactant on labels. "Most pesticides have proprietary formulations and companies seldom
mention the kind of surfactant or its quantity in their packaging," says Prem Dureja, head of Agricultural Chemicals at the Indian Agricultural
Research Institute, Delhi.
Since India does not consider npeos hazardous, no licence is required to set up a
class='UCASE'>npeofactory requires no special licences. "Setting up a chemical unit requires only clearances from the state pollution
control boards and the inspector of factories," says S K Agrawal regional chairman of the Indian Chemical Council. Once the unit is set up, no licence
is needed to start trading in the chemical unless it belongs to a special class, like pharmaceuticals and pesticides, he adds.