Governments alone cannot combat pollution

P K Ray an eminent immunotoxicologist and director, Bose Institute, Calcutta, spoke to Amit Nair on the various issues related to human health

Published: Monday 15 June 1998

On the objectives of the Bose Institute:
For several years, scientists at the Bose Institute have been studying allergins and its effect on human bodies. They have been trying to map the various sources of this allergy forming pollen grains originating in different parts of the country. Bose Institute has also been involved in monitoring sound pollution. Scientists have been studying the ecological aspect of the environment, particularly in the Sundarban areas -- on how different types of environmental pollutants are taking a toll on the famous Sundarathi and other types of ecological species and plants systems.

Since 1992, we have been also conducting research on pollution from industries. We are also developing technology to suit the requirements of individual industries for the treatment of waste.

On what is lacking in environmental research in India:
Preventive toxicology needs to be developed in our country. We should analyse how to prevent toxicological manifestations either in treatment given to the patients or even to take preventive measures so that the people need not be exposed to them anymore. Environmental pollutants are silent killers, they do not kill overnight. Exposure to even a very small pollutant for a long period of time can build up and eventually can cause harm in our body.

There are many regulations which exist in our country, but they need to be implemented. We also need to look into the environmental engineering which focuses on indigenous technology. But I don't know why the government does not compel car manufacturers to provide a catalytic converter in every car. Waste like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and various kinds of hydrocarbons originate because petrol in India contains high levels of lead. These can be controlled just by a simplified legislation since knowledge about them already exists.

On the awareness of environmental issues in India:
After the Bhopal disaster, environmental awareness in our country has increased significantly. People came to know as to what extent and up to what magnitude the Bhopal tragedy took a heavy toll of human and animal life. Later, the Water Pollution Act was made more stringent. The Parliament enacted the environmental law only in 1986.

Pollution cannot be controlled simply by the government, laws and regulations. Government measures are not adequate to contain pollution. Until the general population, every citizen of the nation, becomes conscious environmental issues in our country, environmental degradation will not stop.

On the high intake of pesticides by Indians:
The Central Insecticide Board had set up the Banerjee Committee to identify the most dangerous pesticides in India. It is true there are many pesticides, which have been banned by other nations, are being introduced and used in our nation. But the government is helpless. These are required to save our produce and no alternatives are available. So we have to go by cost and benefit ratio, and at a given point of time until or unless we have some other alternatives.

We want to bring down the use of dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane ( ddt) and hexachloro cyclohexane ( hch) over a period of five years. ddt has been banned long ago for agricultural purposes but villagers still use it. The government policy is not adequate. It will simply not work if you say that this it is to be banned in a country like ours. You have to punish people who are not adhering to the government instructions. ddt and hch traces can he found in the human body. It has also been found in mother's milk. People use the pesticide containers and drums to keep cereals. This is how we are all getting exposed to these harmful chemicals.

On whether regulatory boards have been successful in containing pesticides:
I think the regulatory boards have done some good. But it has not achieved more than 25 per cent of what it intended to do.

On his research on an in-built system called the "stress related mechanism":
I have been doing research to find out the extent of the body's immune system, which is considered to give protection against bacteria, fungus and virus infection. We found that the immune system gives protection not only against these biological materials but also against different kinds of chemical toxicants such as pesticides, heavy metals, drugs and carcinogens.

We have discovered a stress resistant system within the body which protects the body from various kinds of chemical stress, environmental stress such as environmental pollutants and even high or low heat, hydration or dehydration, microgravity and even radiation exposure. These systems can be inhibited, blocked and depressed as a result of over exposure to different forms of toxic chemicals beyond the threshold limit.

My theory is that if a small amount of some inducer is given to the body of the host, it will alert the entire host resistance mechanism and then body will tolerate more of the same toxicant or other toxicants as well. We can at our command regulate the stress system through an exogenous source. We might be able to ensure a protective system much better than otherwise. This is my concept.

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