Speaking to mid-day, experts said that the chemical has traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride, which are carcinogenic; it may also cause blindness, cerebral oedema and seizures
Reacting to the widespread use of calcium carbide (chemical formula CaC2) to cause mangoes to mature artificially, food technologists and doctors agreed that the compound was dangerous and was unsuitable for consumption in any amounts.
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Strict action with heavy fine and imprisonment is required to punish traders and farmers who use chemicals on fruit articles. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Dr Mohammed Wasim Siddiqui is the scientist-cum-assistant professor at the Department of Food Science & Technology, Bihar Agricultural University, one of India’s oldest agricultural colleges, established in 1905. Siddiqui has done extensive research on employment of this chemical for artificially ripening fruits.
He said, “Calcium carbide has numerous applications in chemical and steel industries. It is also used as a ripening agent, though this is banned in many countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal etc. When it reacts with water, it produces acetylene gas, which is an analogue of ethylene gas and quickens the ripening process. Calcium carbide also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous hydride, which have carcinogenic properties.”
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He explained further that due to the moisture in the fruit, heat and acetylene are produced which help ripen it faster. “Fruits ripened with calcium carbide are too soft and less tasty. They also have a shorter shelf life. An artificially ripened fruit would present a yellow outer skin, but the tissue inside would remain green and raw,” he added.
He blamed the concerned authorities for failing to check on malpractices. Dr Anand Kumar Singh, principal scientist at Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi, specialises in mango improvement and molecular characterisation of fruit crops, and has similar views on the issue.
“The need of the hour is to educate end users to help them identify artificially ripened fruits. Consumption of such fruits can affect eyes, liver, lungs, small intestine, along with other neurotoxic effects. Consumers in our country tend to be very resilient, but this is something that needs to be changed. They need to demand and consume certified products, and ask for traceability for products that they consume, in order to remain healthy and free of hazards.”
Variety of side effects
Throwing light on the medical effects of calcium carbide, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, professor and head and neck surgeon at the Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “The attribution of calcium carbide having traces of chemicals that are carcinogenic in nature has come in from animal experiments, which have tested positive for cancer after being exposed to calcium carbide. Animal study is good enough study to draw a conclusion that human beings are also prone to the same.”
He further added, “The Prevention of Food Adulteration act (1955) prohibits usage of such chemicals on food articles. It has serious effects on health and can even cause cancer. It contains traces of arsenic, phosphorous and on reaction with water, produces acetylene gas. It is severely irritating to eyes and direct contact may even lead to blindness. On contact with skin, it causes severe irritation, and rashes with burns. On ingestion, it causes nausea, vomiting, headache, and burns in the gastrointestinal tract. On inhalation, it leads to coughing, irritation of the throat, irregular breathing, shortness of breath and even pulmonary oedema. It is neurotoxic and causes headache, dizziness, sleepiness, loss of memory, cerebral oedema, mental confusion and even seizures. Strict action with heavy fine and imprisonment is required to punish traders and farmers who use it and play with lives of innocent people.”