Diwali is just around the corner, and most households are getting a makeover. Cobwebbed ceilings, dusty fans and fittings and grimy kitchens are soon going to get a new lease on life as we begin deep cleaning of homes to welcome festivities. Many households often use an army of powerful cleaning products to win over dirt, dust and grime. However, the disturbing truths of toxic cleaning agents such as acids, store-bought detergents, and metal polishes are swept under the rug, making our home cleaning a nightmare for the planet's lakes, rivers and oceans.
That is why how we clean matters! Now more than ever, India's wetlands and water bodies are getting contaminated and polluted by the detergents we use to clean homes. An alarming example is the households of 148 villages situated on the banks of Hindon and Krishna rivers in Uttar Pradesh. At least one member in every household is said to be suffering from cancer and bone deformities. What do the rivers have to do with this? Sadly, the Hindon and Krishna have become rivers of poison, as sewage from households in cities (which include strong detergents) and effluents from industries have combined with the once-pristine waters to create a toxic cocktail that is life-threatening for the villagers and the food chain. An action plan prepared for the rejuvenation of the Hindon revealed that 595.6 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage and 78.4 MLD of industrial effluents drained into the Hindon. What is more disturbing is that these toxins have now percolated into groundwater and the water of wells and hand pumps have become poisonous too.
In response, India's National Green Tribunal has now asked the Uttar Pradesh government to expedite the process of providing piped water to the villages by December 2020. However, it could be too little too late, as the toxic water hydrates farmlands across the region, thereby infusing poisonous chemicals into the food chain as well. Moreover, it is not just about humans. These toxic waters are harming our aquatic animals and plants.
How toxic chemicals in detergents are hurting us
The use of household detergents and plasticizers is toxic to aquatic organisms and can cause cancer, congenital disabilities and other health problems. Let us consider two common chemicals in most detergents to understand how they impact all living beings:
Phosphates: Phosphates are a wide variety of chemical compounds that contain phosphorus, a naturally occurring mineral, bonded together with oxygen. Used in dishwashing detergents, it can harm our bodies by producing skin irritation or burns. It can also harm the environment and is highly toxic and lethal to fish. Phosphates cause excessive growth of algae, which results in the spread of bacteria and loss of daylight and oxygen to aquatic ecosystems, killing fish, plants, and other animals.
Hydrochloric acid (HCL): Most of us are familiar with this substance that has a corrosive effect on human tissues and can cause irreversible damage to the skin, eyes, lungs, and other internal organs upon contact. Used in toilet cleaners, it irritates eyes and skin and burns the throat. At the same time, it can harm the environment as it is very toxic to algae, aquatic invertebrates, and fish.
Today, we request you to make conscious choices about Diwali cleaning. The general store-bought cleaners are killing and impairing many living beings, including humans. We can make a quick and easy change to our cleaning routines by using home-made cleaners or natural biodegradable detergents. Let us own up, act and change.