Lenin Media | IS THE ENVIRONMENT ACTUALLY HEALING DURING LOCKDOWN | Article by Dr Arti Jain
 
 
 
COVID19 | Lockdown

IS THE ENVIRONMENT ACTUALLY HEALING DURING LOCKDOWN?

These days we hear that COVID 19 pandemic is a blessing for the environment as there is a considerable decline in planned travel, air pollution has dropped significantly. Many industries were temporarily closed during Lockdown 1 and 2, further adding a feather in the hat of the environment. Every day in newspapers, one column gives us a significant relief during this terrifying situation, and that is, how the earth is beautifying again. We, the so-called human beings, are somehow feeling happy to see greenness around us. We are taking long breaths to inhale more fresh air and thankfully now there is no need for oxygen shots. Earlier they were being sold in so many places and became a new trend. No doubt experts have demarcated several environmental factors that saw improvements in many countries as a result of the lockdowns, such as air quality, noise pollution, water quality, and biodiversity. It is also a good idea to have this type of lockdown once in a year for at least three weeks to give time to the environment to heal itself.

Nevertheless, if we critically revisit this achievement, we somehow failed to accomplish the goal of sustainability.

Are we not looking into the facts that during this pandemic, how a generation of bio-medical waste exponentially increasing and disposal of this waste is creating a huge problem. Our health professionals are indeed doing a great job these days. They are working day and night to cope up with this situation. For the safety of our health professionals and to prevent any further spread of the virus, PPE kit is being worn by them which are disposed on a daily basis. Other safety measures are also being taken. New devices and test kits are being used for the evaluation of this disease and disposed of. Massive amount of waste is generating in a world every hour. If we look into the stats of Delhi only, we will find the enormous pressure on the biomedical waste treatment plants. Even if somehow they are managing this pressure but do we know how bio-medical waste treatment occur. Biomedical waste is often incinerated. An efficient incinerator will destroy pathogens and sharps. Alternative thermal treatment can also include technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis, including energy recovery with similar waste volume reductions and pathogen destruction. During incineration, CO2 and other toxic gases are released into the environment. After the incineration process, toxic ash residue is generated and is generally disposed at landfills. These landfills are often not confined by any fence, and the deposit has the potential of reaching underground water which is often bared to human use. The burning of plastic material discharges toxic gases that run off and quietly joins breathable air. Human and animal exposure to such gases can cause long term breathing and health issues. The rotation of toxic air does not only impact human well-being, but also of animals and plants. Air pollution caused by the incinerators depletes the ozone layer, leading to crop and forest damage, and increases climate change. Constant exposure to such toxins and chemicals in the air could be deemed detrimental to trees and plants could eventually lead to the extinction of certain plants in specific areas. Pollution and chemical leaks also affect the fruits of trees and would cause them to be poisonous and therefore, inedible.

As the requirement of Biomedical materials is increasing day by day, to fulfil this demand, new machineries are being set up. Most of these materials require plastic which we all know how badly is impacting our environment. Just before this pandemic, we were fighting against the non-biodegradable plastic and were moving towards plastic-free life. However, again we are on the same lane and utilizing plastic a lot. Furthermore, again this is our NEW NORMAL.

It is indeed a proud moment for all Indians that we are fabricating our PPE kits, masks and another bio- medical materials but are we also taking measures towards keeping checks on the sustainability of our environment.

Now use of sanitizer is not confined as hand sanitizer; we are sanitizing every thing. We even want to sanitize our eatables with it. Do we know what are we using? Generally, sanitizers are made up of alcohol (mostly isopropyl alcohol). Before COVID 19 pandemic use of sanitizer was minimal, and very few of us keep it along and use it just for sanitizing hands. Nevertheless, sanitizers have taken the same position in our lives as of mobile phone. We are carrying sanitizer everywhere and using it at each public place. We are even using it at home as well. If we look EPA data on isopropyl alcohol, we will find that this traditional cleaning product and the solvent is proved to be hazardous and toxic. It is linked to many known carcinogens, diseases, and health and environmental risks. It is also very harmful to aquatic life. Most noteworthy, Isopropyl alcohol poses a significant risk of oxygen depletion in aquatic systems. As a result, Isopropyl alcohol causes Acute Fish Toxicity. As the boiling point of Isopropyl alcohol is not very high (~82oC, which is less than water), it is considered in the category of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which have several harmful effects on environments and ozone layer. VOC’s also possess serious adverse effects on plants to cause phytotoxicity. Other than isopropyl alcohol, ethanol is also used as sanitizer but have the same severe effects for human being, aquatic animals, and environment. Packaging of sanitizers further increasing the use of plastic and making the situation more troublesome. Use of soap and water is somehow better to use whenever possible.

Sodium Hypochlorite (NaOCl) is also very much used in public places as well as in residential area as an effective disinfectant. Earlier it was often used for disinfecting hospital wastewater in order to prevent the spread of pathogenic microorganisms, causal agents of nosocomial infectious diseases. NaOCl form Chlorine in wastewater which reacts with organic matters, giving rise to organic chlorine compounds (halogenated organic compounds such as chloroform, carbon tetrachloride) which are toxic for aquatic organisms and are persistent environmental contaminants. Chlorine compounds have high acute toxicity for aquatic organisms as well. When NaOCl is used for disinfecting surfaces such as metal surfaces, walls, doors, painted surfaces etc., then it can degrade these surfaces and causes further air pollution. Use of NaOCl is not only harmful for the environment but also have serious adverse effects on the human being.

Wearing a mask whenever we are outside become a new trend and need of the hour but at the cost of enormous waste creation. We are using these masks for one time and then discard and leading to a new problem of risky waste generation as it cannot be dumped as such due to risk of spread of the virus. Most of these masks are composing plastic as one of the components and further enhancing the problems.

Gloves have also become one of the main components of our life, and we use them regularly. Increase in the use of gloves also augments waste and then creating problems for the environment.

From last 3 - 4 months, markets are flooded with the fruits and vegetable cleaners. We are buying them happily to secure ourselves from the microorganism’s related diseases. These cleaners are using ethyl alcohol, laurate esters of sorbitol and sorbitol anhydrides. Uses of these chemicals are further deteriorating the health of the environment as the water discharges are directly impacting aquatic species.

People are getting Goosebumps when they think of Cab pooling, leading to the running of vehicles on roads with one passenger only. Even in the buses, limited passengers are allowed. All these factors are making pressure on the resources and indirectly creating more pollution.

Though all these factors were there before lockdown as well and were impacting the environment but as the use of these components are now manifolds, their implications on the environment also become manifolds.

Even though we are trapped in this pandemic situation and satisfied with the flashes showing improvement of the environment day by day, but if we deeply analyze all these facts we will realize how we are degrading our environment indirectly. As our world becomes more toxic from chemicals of our own making, it is crucial to reduce, mitigate or better yet eradicate all the chemical toxins we can. Nature can be saved naturally, not by the excessive use of chemicals. So, changing our perspective towards the fabrication of material and disposal of the material will surely give new direction for sustainability hence there is need to rethink, recreate and reconcile concerning environment so that we can truly heal our environment.