AN INCREASED presence of heavy metals in foods does not only put food chain at risk but also puts public health in jeopardy. Plants and animals bioaccumulate heavy metals form the environment and the plants and animals, used as sources of food, then contribute to the uptake of heavy metals by humans, which invites danger. While such a situation leaves the government with the task of keeping the food chain healthy, the fact that such an increased bioaccumulation of heavy metals by plants and animals takes place because of improper management of wastes, not just the industrial and medical but also municipal and electronic, calls out the government on shoring up issues related to the management of wastes of all types. Research shows, as New Age reported on Thursday, the presence of heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, lead, mercury, zinc, copper, nickel and arsenic 20 times higher than the standard limits in foods such as rice, vegetables, chicken, meat, fish, fruit and some other food items in some areas. Such a situation paints a bleak picture in view of a large number of people suffering from health problems that may have been caused by heavy metals.
A World Health Organisation report shows that Bangladesh had more than 1.5 million cancer patients in 2018, with 200,000 new patients coming up and 150,000 dying of the disease every year. A Kidney Foundation of Bangladesh study says that 35,000–40,000 people suffer from chronic kidney problems and about 18 million people suffer from kidney failure every year. If waste management continues to take place without any comprehensive plan, the situation at hand could reach a more dangerous pass. Experts say that untreated municipal, medical and industrial solid wastes, waste water from tanneries, and textile and dyeing units, ship-breaking yards and chemical and electronic industries are principal sources of heavy metals that find way to the environment. Used batteries, light bulbs, electronic devices and electrical appliances also add to the worries as they are dumped in an unmanaged manner. The use of solid tannery wastes to produce fodder and feed without an effective government oversight, an excessive use of chemical fertiliser and pesticide in the absence of adequately enforced standard protocols have only increased the chance of the bioaccumulation of heavy metals by plants and animals. All this suggests that a comprehensive waste management plan has always been absent, betraying the failures of relevant government agencies that have so far merely removed heaps of wastes from places such as households, roadsides, markets, hospitals and the likes and piled them untreated and unmanaged at dumps, exacerbating the situation.
The government on its own, or through its agencies especially the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, must, therefore, supervise heavy metal levels in food supplies and work out plans, and act on them, to attend to the issues effectively. But along with this, the government must also work out plans to properly manage wastes of all kinds to reduce the bioaccumulation of heavy metals by plants and animals to stop the uptake of such toxic metals by humans. It is imperative for the government to keep the food chain healthy to unburden itself of the danger that public health has, thus, been pushed into.
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