The enemy within
By Deepshikha Punj
30th September 2012 12:00 AM
Contrary to popular belief that modern kitchen in India does away with problems of ventilation and reduces harmful effects of gasoline, these kitchens are creating an environment more dangerous than toxic-filled streets.
Researchers in Kolkata studied a group of typical urban residences and found the presence of the harmful mono-aromatic hydrocarbons, namely benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and isomers of xylene (BTEX). “BTEX is a volatile organic compound mostly found in petroleum and gasoline products. Benzene and xylene are the compounds found in it which have notorious effect on the central nervous system (CNS) in human beings. Too much exposure to BTEX can cause sensory irritation on skin, CNS depression, and effects on the respiratory system. CNS depression and death have occurred at higher levels of exposure to BTEX,” says Dr. Karuna Malhotra, Homeopath Physician at Cosmetic Skin and Homeo Clinic.
The report states that the indoor level of fumes was found to be significantly dependent on the type of fuel used and extent of ventilation but not on location of the residence or kitchen placement inside the residence. It also says that with increasing ventilation, the intrusion of outdoor air has definite contribution in increasing the indoor level of these fumes. The human health risk estimation in the report, titled ‘Variability of BTEX in Residential Indoor Air of Kolkata Metropolitan City’, says that the average integrated lifetime cancer risk considering the exposure to benzene and ethylbenzene due to residing for only 15 years in such indoor conditions is 2.9 E−05, which is sufficiently higher than the acceptable risk of 1.0 E−06.
“Most urban kitchens in India face lack of proper ventilation. So even if a cleaner fuel source like LPG is used, lack of ventilation causes accumulation of combustion byproducts, long-term exposure of which leads to many respiratory disorders like chronic bronchitis or asthma,” says Dr Alpa Dalal, Consultant Pulmonologist at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. “A recent study conducted in North India (Lakshmi, 2012); irrespective of the fuel type used, the risk of pulmonary tuberculosis was two-fold higher in women who used the kitchen inside the living room than those who used a separate kitchen or cooked in the open,” she says.
Women exposed to kerosene and LPG fuel exhausts over a long time hold a high risk of acquiring lung cancer, interstitial lung disease and respiratory infections. Dr Pervez Ahmed, Chairman and Managing director, Aventus Healthcare, says, “These toxins can also seep into water and consequently into our food stuff and can enter our body through ingestion, inhalation or the touch of skin.”
However, certain precautionary measures can turn the tables in your favour. “Shift to electrical hot plates and use good quality gas stoves that ensures a 100 per cent gas consumption and prevents gas leaks,” says Dr Vivek Nangia, Pulmonologist, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, Delhi. One can also make sure no moisture seeps between the kitchen counter and the sink or walls. “Replace any damaged or moldy seals with a quality silicone sealant and always turn on the extractor fan while cooking to take out the water vapour. Regularly clean the filters to allow moist air to pass through unhindered. And never hang wet dishcloths and used kitchen towels in closed cabinets. Because the moisture cannot escape, black mold and bacteria are likely to develop in the cabinet and on the cloth,” says Malhotra.
She adds that since the salt in dishwasher tablets attracts moisture, new generation dishwasher tablets are often not packed in plastic, but a water dissolvable material that lets through moisture from the air. “Store the tablets in a closed plastic box to prevent them getting mushy,” she says.
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