Chemicals used for artificially ripening fruits in Bangladesh contain high amount of heavy metals and other chemicals which get diffused into fruits, even those having hard peels, exposing public health to serious hazards, reveals a new study.
The revelation came from a group of researchers from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who studied impurities in chemicals in use for ripening fruits.
They had their findings published in Cogent – food and agriculture journal on May 23.
‘The study is a real eye-opener,’ said BUET chemical engineering assistant professor Mohidus Samad Khan, who co-authored the study.
‘We take the opportunity to make a noise about risks involved in chemically ripened fruits in the country so that policymakers can make the right intervention,’ said Mohid.
The findings come amid growing confusions among people whether or not it is safe to eat artificially ripened fruits as government agencies enforcing food safety law took stance in its favour earlier and against it lately.
The findings also include that artificial ripening brings a negative change in nutritional values in fruits and the changes may hamper natural growth of body or result in a number of health conditions.
Tests show that samples collected from gateways of imported chemicals into Bangladesh contained high level of impurities, including heavy metals.
The chemicals tested are calcium carbide, ethephon, kerosene, and ethylene glycol, popular among fruit sellers for ripening fruits ahead of season to make quick bucks.
Calcium carbide samples were laced with impurities like sulphur, iron, silicon, magnesium, aluminium, zinc, arsenic and phosphorus.
The sulphur contents in calcium carbide is found to be many times more than the chemical’s constituting elements — calcium and carbon.
Calcium concentration in the samples was found not exceeding 2,52,700 ppm while carbon concentration was found not above 62,500 ppm, the study report shows.
But the concentration at which sulphur was found in the samples was as high as 638,300 ppm and 570,000 ppm.
Sulphur concentration above 600 ppm is considered toxic, the study said, referring to the US National Academy of Science.
The concentration of arsenic was found to be 160 ppm against the permissible limit of between 0.5-2 ppm fixed by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says phosphorus concentration exceeding the limit of 10 ppm and 4 ppm is lethal for dog and cat respectively.
In samples, tested by BUET, the phosphorus concentration was found to be at 120 ppm and 80 ppm.
Sulphur contamination is also found in ethephon, ethylene glycol and kerosene.
In peel and flesh of artificially ripened bananas, the study found sulphate and sulphide twice the amount found in the peel and flesh of naturally ripened bananas.
‘Peel has its porosity,’ said Mohid explaining how chemical entered bananas protected by hard peels.
The idea that chemicals cannot enter peel-protected fruits like bananas and mangoes is promoted by Bangladesh Food Safety Authority.
The study said that the impurities found in the samples may cause acute renal failure, fatal systematic poisoning, burn injury, pulmonary injuries, diarrhoea, permanent skin damage and non-functioning lungs.
‘The findings of the study are really alarming,’ said Dhaka University biochemistry professor Riazul Islam after going through the findings of the study.
‘Impurities found in the samples are much higher than human body can possibly deal with,’ he added.
Riazul said that consumption of fruits ripened with such chemicals might have a severe impact on the health of pregnant women and babies.
He said that these types of foods may be the cause behind the rising autism problems among kids.
The rate of children born with autism jumped to 5 to 10 per cent of the population from 0.5 to 1 per cent in the last decade, said Riazul.
Similarly, cases of abortion and deformation in foetal growth have been on the rise.
‘This is now it can be recognised that these problems are directly linked to food adulteration,’ said Riazul.
Regarding change in nutritional values, the study says, artificially ripened fruits are more acidic compared to naturally ripened fruits.
On the other hand, kerosene fume treatment reduces Vitamin C content in banana to a third compared with naturally ripened ones.
BIRDEM hospital nutrition department head Shamsun Naher Mohua said that high acidity or presence of high total titratable acidity would affect teeth and gum formation in kids.
It also causes acidity problems and abdominal pain and ultimately ulcer, said Mohua.
The reduction in Vitamin c could be disastrous as it would affect iron absorption in body which is very crucial for women, especially those pregnant.
‘It will cause anaemia and hampers foetal growth,’ said Mohua.
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