Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Holi celebrations come with substantial health risks

Hindus are celebrating Holi, the festival of colour, at the moment. I'm sure you've seen it: people covered in brightly-coloured paint powder, daubing themselves and each other in the stuff, throwing it around with ecstatic abandon. 

Looks harmless enough, right? It even looks fun, as religious rites go. But - call me a spoilsport - I couldn't help but wonder if it's actually healthy.

Sure enough, it sure as hell isn't. It seems that Indian doctors have been warning for years that the powdered and liquid colours, known as gulal, can cause skin and eye injuries and respiratory issues. The powder and liquid colour used, particularly the cheaper options, contains all manner of toxic substances like mercury, chromium, iron, asbestos, silica, mica and lead, industrial dyes not cleared for human use, and even broken glass and pesticides.

Every year, doctors have to deal with an influx of bacterial skin infection, allergies, eye inflammation, contact dermatitis, eczema, rashes, itching and hives. But the potential long-term problems are much more alarming.

When ingested, the colour can aggravate conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Lead is well known to be dangerous and can cause severe cognitive disabilities, particularly in children. Chromium can lead to bronchitis, asthma and allergies. Mercury can impact the kidneys and liver, and the health of unborn babies. Iron can cause light sensitivity in the skin. Silica can lead to dry skin. Ground glass can cause eye inflammation, and ultimately even blindness; etc etc.

So, sorry to burst your bubble, but that colourful, joyous and carefree religious celebration is actually a minefield of health hazards. Just one more way religion can harm you. 

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