Plastic problems | Sunday Observer

Plastic problems

22 August, 2021

The glut of plastic packaging now piling up island wide endangering the lives of millions inhaling their toxic fumes, is a great source of worry for health officials trying to shield the public from the Covid 19 pandemic and its more deadly Delta variant.

As a solution to end this widespread pollution the Environment Minister launched a campaign with the approval of the Health Minister and Cabinet of ministers to ban all forms of plastic packaging from the beginning of this month especially single use plastic sheets that were proven to be medically unsuitable for human health.

The Sunday Observer asked Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Colombo, Dr. Ravindra Fernando on the specific health effects of both using and inhaling plastic chemical toxin and who most at risk were. In reply he said, “Inhalation of plastic fumes can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, respiratory side effects such as aggravated asthma, skin irritations, headaches, nervous system damage, and other organ damage such as the kidney, liver, and reproductive system.”

Respiratory problems

What about patients with Covid we asked. “Covid patients suffer from respiratory problems such as cough and difficulty in breathing. Therefore, if they are exposed to plastic fumes their symptoms may be aggravated”, he warned.

We also asked his comments on the recent news report stating that the Environment Minister has also suggested various alternatives that were bio degradable and had requested all star class hotels, medium hotels, restaurants and wayside eating houses to switch to eco friendly lunch sheets made of banana leaves and lotus leaves which did not affect human health as they were natural products. Did he see it as a step forward?

Responding he said, “Yes, they are environment friendly and cause no harmful effects. He also welcomed the news that some hotels have already turned to banana and lotus leaves to serve food and also commonly available Kenda Kola leaves to wrap short eats for take ways, as a “good development.”

On the recent decision of the Government to ban the sale of several more plastic related items including cotton buds with plastic stems, inflatable toys manufactured in single use plastic (SUP) and sachets having a capacity of 20 ml (20 g) or below, we asked him to list the specific health effects of each of these items for our readers’ benefit. Replying to our question he said, “These items also contain plastic and therefore, burning can cause same health effects I previously mentioned.”

Agro chemicals

The Central Environmental Authority ( CEA) has also warned manufacturers to refrain from filling agro chemicals or pesticide in plastic bottles made of PET (Poly Ethylene –Terephthalte) and PVC (Poly-vinyl- chloride) following recent research on the dangers they can expose the public to. We asked if he could comment on this specific danger. His response was, “Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and new data suggests that it is probably leaching into food, drinks, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and other items at potentially high levels.”

Asked about alternatives like bio fertilisers in organic agriculture to substitute for these chemical fertilisers, he said, “ Bio-fertilisers in organic agriculture can substitute chemical fertilisers. However, they are not easily available for farmers.”

To our final question of the health impacts of plastic burning in the open environment, he noted,

“When plastic is burned, it releases dangerous chemicals and toxic gases such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans and heavy metals, as well as particulates. Dioxins and furans may also cause cancer, impotence, asthma and a myriad of other detrimental effects to human beings. Immediate effects of these may include severe irritation to the nose, lungs and eyes.”