Feeling dizzy, nauseous? It could be the mangoes

This summer, mango has a new flavour, that of cancer-causing calcium carbide, with dashes of phosphorous and arsenic! Caught in the aftermath of an extended winter and predictions of pre-monsoon showers, worried mango growers and traders have been making excessive use of the banned chemical compound to ripen the fruit — especially Alphonso — and sell it off in the market. But the substance, which has carcinogenic properties and contains arsenic and phosphorus, may lead to serious health problems, particularly neurological, experts warned.

Ripe before their time? Mangoes ripened with calcium carbide, which contains arsenic and phosphorous, pose a threat to physical and neurological health, experts say

Erratic winter
Farmers and traders at the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) claimed that changes in climate this year have disturbed the life cycle of mango trees, affecting the fruit’s natural ripening process and thereby quality. As such, they have been using calcium carbide to ripen the fruit, fearing mangoes may get spoilt if allowed to mature naturally. “Mango trees did not get the required heat to grow as winter lasted until March this year. This has disturbed the life cycle of the trees and the fruits are not being ripened properly. Moreover, mango growers in the Konkan used Cultar (paclobutrazol) in excessive quantities to catalyse flowering after a prolonged winter spoiled that as well. And that has also weakened the trees. So we are forced to use calcium carbide, in some cases, more than usual,” said a mango grower from Devgad, who wished not to be named. A few sachets of calcium carbide are kept in a box of mangoes with hay for two to three days to ripen the fruits.

Early showers?
Further, anticipating pre-monsoon showers in the next few days, APMC traders are selling their stock as early as possible by ripening mangoes artificially. Traders fear deterioration in quality and consequently the demand for the fruit once the showers set in over the next few days. “We are doing good business for the last few days as supply of mango has increased but it will last for just a few more days as pre-monsoon showers are expected to come in the next few days. So we are left with no option but to ripen mango using calcium carbide and sell mango as early as possible. Because after pre-monsoon showers, demand of mango goes down and so does our business,” said an APMC trader, requesting anonymity.

Toxic effects
Dr Rashneh Pardiwala, director at Centre for Environmental Research and Education, said, “Calcium carbide is a carcinogenic and contains arsenic and phosphorus. It is very harmful for humans and can lead to headache, dizziness, and nausea. Eating mangos ripened with the compound can lead to serious neurological problems as well.” Pardiwala recommends zero use of chemical compounds for ripening fruits.
“It is strongly recommended that no fruit should be processed artificially as no scientific finding has authenticated the benefits from such fruits so far,” she said.

The government banned the use of calcium carbide a few years back. But it is easily available in the market. Traders claimed ethylene, recommended by agriculture scientists, is not appropriate for ripening as it spoils the fruit. “We have been recommended to use ethylene for ripening of mango but we have observed that mango fruits get spoilt after being treated with ethylene. We use calcium carbide as it is effective, cheap and easily available,” said the APMC trader.

Look before you eat
>> Wash the mangoes thoroughly before consuming. Keep these under running water for a few minutes
>> Cut the fruit into pieces, rather than consuming directly.
>> Mangoes that have a uniform colour, for example, are more likely to have been artificially ripened. 

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