BY PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
The chairman, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), FCT Chapter, Pharm Jelili Kilani, has said that calcium carbide, which is common used by fruit sellers to ripen fruits is extremely hazardous to the human body as it contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus.
“Although it is banned in many countries of the world, it is still being used indiscriminately. Thus, we are at a greater risk of short-term as well as long-term health effects simply by eating fruits that are artificially ripened.
“Fruits are an essential component of our food. They are assumed to protect us from diseases and increase our immunity. Most of the times, we eat fruits when they get ripened. Ripening is a natural physiological process that makes the fruit sweeter, more palatable, edible, nutritious, softer and attractive,”he said.
Kilani, who is also the Head of Pharmacy, National Hospital Abuja, explained that artificial ripening is the process by which ripening is controlled and product may be obtained as required by controlling different parameters. It is done to achieve faster and more uniform ripening.
Speaking further, he said generally, 80 per cent of fruits are ripened artificially through the use of ripening agents. The cosmetic quality of artificially ripened fruits will increase but organoleptic qualities (taste, colour and smell), nutrition value and shelf life are depreciated when fruits are subjected to treatment without considering maturity status.
According to him, Ethylene (ethene) is the major ripening agent produced naturally within the fruits which initiates the process of ripening. Many ripening agents are used to release ethylene in order to speed up the ripening process. Chemicals like ethanol, methanol, ethylene glycol, ethephon and calcium carbide are used to ripen fruits and vegetables artificially.
He said, ‘‘More raw or less mature fruits require higher CaC2 to get ripened. Carbide ripened fruits produce uniform skin color. Actually CaC2 only changes the skin color and the fruit remains raw inside. Carbide contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous hydride which are carcinogenic agents. Because of cheap availability of CaC2 in local markets, it is used illegally to enhance fruit ripening.
“Early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorous poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea with or without blood, burning sensation of chest and abdomen, thirst, weakness, difficulty in swallowing, irritation or burning in the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers on skin, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath. Higher exposure may cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.’’
“Acetylene is not acutely toxic if it is below the permissible levels whereas if it exceeds the limits then its inhalation can cause unconsciousness and it may affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia i.e. deficiency of oxygen.”
Kilani further informed that findings related to carbide poisoning have reported headache, dizziness, memory loss, mood disturbances, mental confusion, sleepiness, cerebral oedema and seizure. Other effects include numbness in the legs and hands, general weakness, cold and damp skin and low blood pressure.