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Scientists warn against synthetic Holi colours

Tuesday 14 March 2006

Tests verify that they cause skin abrasions, skin and eye irritations, allergies and even asthma

Lucknow: With the festival of colours just a day away, the scientists have cautioned people against using synthetic dye-based colours.

Dr Mukul Das, Deputy Director of Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC) said here today that a majority of colours used in Holi are made up of synthetic dyes of non-food grade items such as textiles, paper and leather.

A lot of harmful chemicals like rhodamina (for pink/red), melachite (green), methylviolet (violet), orange II (orange) and auramine (yellow) are used to prepare the Holi colours.

"ITRC conducted a research and found that the market is flooded with synthetic colours, which are harmful to both skin and hair," he informed.

Taking advantage of the huge demand for powdered and grained varieties of colours during Holi, unscrupulous elements mix chemical dyes to fillers (base material) such as starch, wheat flour and mica dust to prepare cheap quality fragrant colours.

"They also contain traces of lead and cadmium. Scientific tests have verified these cause skin abrasions, skin and eye irritations, allergies and even asthma," Dr Das said.

He maintained that long term application of such synthetic colours can also have carcinogenic (cancer causing) effect.

The National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) has developed `herbal gulal’ technology and transferred it to private companies for commercial production.

Herbal gulal is eco-friendly naural dye, which is available in five colours viz yellow, blue, pink, sandalwood and green and is touted as the most viable alternative to synthetic colours.

"Synthetic colours cause irritation, respiratory problems and even damage other vital organs," a senior NBRI scientist said adding the toxic effluents released from these colours also pollute water and soil.

Dr Das said till 1950s, only natural colours and mostly home prepared varieties were used. The method was quite simple. Boil flowers like hibiscus or palash and filter the water. For fragrance, essence of kewda, harsinghar and rose water was used. He said the ritual of playing with wet colours in Holi has a scientific reason attached to it.

``Holi is the time when the atmosphere permits growth of micro-orgnaisms. Natural Holi colours are photo sensitisers and become active under sunlight, killing these micro-organisms,’’ he claimed.

``Synthetic colours are also photo sensitisers, but are toxic,’’ he said adding using natural colours of flowers and vegetative variety was the safest option.

Holi colours are produced on small scale and there is virtually no regulation and quality check on its sale.

Holi colours should be regulated under Food and Drug Cosmetic Act and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Dr Das opined.

However, till the time we have better alternatives one should apply a thick coat of pure mustard oil all over the body and hair before playing Holi. — UNI

See online : The Hindu

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