COVID-19 OUTBREAK HAS EXTENDED THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINANTS FROM SHOWER TO SEWER

A sea change in life and work

The Novel Corona Virus that has had such an impact on the world – a phenomenon that has never been seen before by the human race – has ramifications in every aspect of our lives. The virus, named COVID-19 or SARS-COV-2, has changed life as we know it. There has been an impact on work with much of the workspaces, wherever there is a gathering of colleagues, shut down and employees working from home if possible. Even essential industries, which stayed open or have re-opened partially, work with a pared down staff. Banks and financial and governmental institution operate with less than half the number of manpower working half of the workday they used to use up earlier. Shops and markets have seen a similar work pattern.

Home life, understandably, has been affected too. Staying indoors has made families and individuals re-think their day and needs and people are making do with less while obeying all the restrictions and precautions that could keep the COVID virus at bay.

The demand for cleaning agents and sanitizers have jumped 70% as people are washing hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, many times a day or applying hand-sanitizers with a very high percentage of alcohol.

The precautions all have to follow

At home, at work, and every time one steps outdoors and comes in contact with other people or surfaces and objects, people are rigorously maintaining social distancing, personal hygiene and hand-washing guidelines laid out by several health agencies the world over.

In India, the online search for cleaning agents has risen by 81% in the west and 67% in the north. In all, about 2.2 million searches have been recorded for such cleansing materials in the span of a single day.

Chemical contamination from our cleaning agents that we use has spread, quite literally from the shower to the sewer. Let us enumerate the problems one by one…

The problems with obeying the precautions

The increase in hand-washing and use of cleansing agents like sanitizers the use of water would be very high. The world is already looking at a water shortage that would severely impede life of earth in a couple of decades from now. There are already water shortages in a lot of places, including in India. Therefore, the recommendation of frequent washing of hands throughout the day, and for at least twenty seconds, would further deplete our water resources in places where water is still thought to be abundant. Surface and ground water levels would fall sharply until the end of this pandemic. And where there is a scarcity of water, people would be under acute pressure to save as much water as possible and use as little as they can while they adhere to the directive of hand washing. At some places, this practice, though vital as a last-line precaution, would be difficult to perform.

Secondly, the chemicals present in the soaps and other cleaning agents would wash away as waste water and be discharged into our already polluted waterways, channels, and riverine and marine eco-systems. There would be no surety about the persistence, solubility, and bio-degradability of the chemicals that would now be present in waste water more and more.

This is not a problem only of today. All of us use thousands of chemicals in our households and work places, with very few being aware of the extent of the harm these chemicals would be causing to our environment. Individually, and as a society, we are polluting our surrounds every day and we do not know the processes of breakdown of these possible toxins before they can leach into the soil or be fed to the seas.

An enumeration of the chemical contaminants we release every day would startle us all

In water treatment we use chlorine, chlorine dioxide, hypo chlorite, bromine chloride, ozone, bromine, iodine, fluorine, potassium permanganate, hydrogen peroxide, phenols, copper, silver, mercury, zinc, and nickel.

Our soaps and detergents contain trichlocarban or cloflucarban, benzalkonium chlorides, cetylpyrimidine chloride, ammonium salts, bisbiguanides like chlorhexidine and alexidine to name the common contaminants.

Hand sanitizers contain ethanol and isopropyl alcohol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide among other pollutants.

The preservatives that are part of our daily lives are full of sorbic acid, benzoic acid, propionic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, calcium propionate, sulphur dioxide and nitrites, nitric oxide and further ingredients that are very harmful for the environment.

The risks we live with

The chemicals we release, unthinkingly, into our immediate surrounds persist in our environment. They accumulate in the biology of human beings and are poisonous to them and to plants and animal life, and to the ecology as a whole. And every day, we release more such toxins into our soil and water. The disastrous effects of these harmful substances cannot be easily reversed.

How critical this risk is depends upon the specific properties of the individual toxins, the size of the population exposed to their threats, and the duration of the exposure. Human beings are affected by these chemicals in three ways – through ingestion, when they take these elements into their system; through inhalation, when they breathe them in; and absorption into their bodies.

MSK’s critical role in this scenario

With decades of expertise in sampling, testing, and inspection MSK’s capable Environment Division have been analysing toxins and impurities that affect us directly – in air and water. In the context of increased contaminants because of the fallout of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we provide essential service to our clients in factories, workplaces, commercial buildings and residential complexes by giving the qualitative estimation of ground water, surface water, waste water, soil and sediments. This is an area of work that has become most important because of the situation this pandemic has brought about.

Our services are on offer for testing and for all, in the wake of the special circumstances that we are witnessing today.