Lab Studies

Endosulphan residues in the environment and human blood

CSE set up this pollution monitoring laboratory to monitor chemical toxins so that information about the health threats from chemical toxins can be made available in the public domain. The first study undertaken by the laboratory was a scientific testing of endosulphan residues in the environment and human blood in Padre village in Kasargode district of Kerala. The study was in response to letters received from groups working in the district detailing high incidences of neurological diseases.

The result of the study was that endosulphan levels were extremely high. CSE organised a public meeting to disseminate the results. The study had a huge media impact and the issue was covered by major national newspapers and Television channels. Within a span of a year from the publication and dissemination of the study, the state government of Kerala banned the further aerial spraying of endosulphan in the state. Similarly, the court also stayed the further spraying of endosulphan in Kasaragod district.


Pesticide in bottled drinking water and soft drinks

CSE’s studies on pesticide residues in packaged drinking water and soft drinks set a milestone in environmental advocacy. The two studies that exposed the presence of pesticide in bottled drinking water and soft drinks generated front-page headlines in national newspapers and were covered extensively by television channels.

The tremendous media response forced the government to act. The ministries of food and civil supplies, consumer affairs and health and family welfare announced draft norms revising the testing methodology and standards for pesticide residues in bottled water. A high level committee was constituted to finalise the new norms after a due review process. A Joint Parliamentary Committee, the first ever on a public health issue, was set up by the government to look into the issue of pesticide residue in beverages and recommend standards.

The report of the fourth Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the presence of pesticide residues in soft drinks was tabled in February 2004. The JPC report not only endorsed CSE's findings on pesticide residues in soft drinks but it also endorsed the demand for a strong public health agenda for food and water. CSE filed a filed a public interest litigation case in the Supreme Court of India and continues to work on this issue. As a result of CSE’s campaign, the government has agreed to set final product standards for pesticide residues in soft drinks and has drafted a new Food Safety Bill. Under the proposed bill, the use of food additives, processing aid, contaminants, heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, veterinary drugs residue, antibiotic residues, or solvent residues will be prohibited unless they are in accordance with specified regulations.

The CSE exposé generated tremendous media and public interest. Several institutions like schools, airlines and government canteens banned the sale of cold drinks. Media reports said that sales had fallen 30 per cent as an effect of the CSE report. Different state governments also took action. Some state governments undertook voluntary test of these soft drinks in their respective states. The Orissa, West Bengal and Gujarat governments ordered test of soft drinks samples. The Union Health minister Sushma Swaraj announced in Parliament that the government would independently test samples of the soft drinks.


GMO in food products

Foods produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are referred to as genetically modified (GM) foods. The safety of GM foods has been a matter of concern. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has not allowed GM foods in India so far.

To understand whether GM foods are available in the Indian market, the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested 65 imported and domestically produced processedfood samples. Testing involved qualitatively screening for the presence of GM DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) through the qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction). The food samples were made from or likely to contain ingredients from soya, corn, rapeseed or cottonseed and were a mix of oils, packaged foods, infant foods and protein supplements.

Overall, 32 per cent of the food product samples tested were GM positive. Forty-six per cent of imported food products tested positive. These were made of or used soya, corn and rapeseed and were imported from Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, the UAE, and the US. About 17 per cent of the samples manufactured in India tested positive. All of these were of cottonseed oil. Out of the 20 GM-positive packaged samples (excluding crude cottonseed oil), 13 did not mention use of GM ingredients on their labels. Some brands had claims on their labels suggesting that they had no GM ingredients but were found to be GM positive.

Toxic Toys

We generally take toys for granted but this may no longer be the case atleast not if we are concerned about the health of our young children.

A recent laboratory study by the Centre for Science and Environment shows the presence of phthalates, a highly toxic chemical, in toys sold in the Indian market. These toxic chemicals are not regulated or monitored by the government, putting children at risk. Scientific evidence has shown that exposure to phthalates can cause a variety of health problems ranging from asthma to pre term birth. It is for this reason that US and European Union regulate the use of these substances in toys.

Inspite of these concerns phthalates are nowhere on the radar of Indian authorities, they have made a few attempts to regulate other safety aspects of toys like mechanical and chemical properties and presence of certain heavy metals. Domestically, these standards remain voluntary. But since January last year, the authorities, mostly under pressure from a vigilant judiciary, have tried to regulate the quality of toys being imported. It is mandatory for imported toys to meet the above mentioned standards.

But the government is on a sticky wicket here. While making it mandatory for imports to conform to standards, it does not ask of its own industry to meet the same. This is clearly a non-tariff barrier to trade. India is fortunate no one has complained till now.

Lead in Paints

Modern houses are full of harmful chemicals. One of them is lead, present in paints. Though several countries have banned the use of this substance India is yet to do so, which is why paint makers use them. Inhaling lead dust while performing mundane chores like opening or closing windows is the most common source of lead poisoning. The human body is not designed to process lead. Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead as it can damage the central nervous system and the brain.

So the Centre for Science and Environment in a two phase study conducted in 2008 and 2009 tested popular brands of Indian paints to check the quantity of lead. The results show that a majority of the samples contained lead above the voluntary standard of 1,000 ppm set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

If lead is so poisonous why do paint makers continue to use it? The reasons are not hard to comprehend. Using lead susbtitutes increases the cost and also reduces paint performance. So what will it take the industry to stop using this toxic material-mandatory standards which is what CSE has been asking the government to establish.

Antibiotics in Honey

Ayurveda prescribes it for a range of ailments. People eat it for rejuvenation and boosting immunity. An Indian homemaker’s kitchen shelf is incomplete without a jar of this amber liquid. But without quality and safety controls, this gift of nature has been contaminated. CSE laboratory tests find high levels of antibiotics in well-known brands of honey sold in the market.

Antibiotics in Chicken

Growing antibiotic-resistance in humans also because of large-scale indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry industry, claims CSE study

  • 70 chicken samples from Delhi-NCR region tested for six commonly used antibiotics 
  • 40 per cent samples test positive; residues of more than one antibiotic found in 17 per cent samples
  • Points to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics as growth promoters by the poultry industry
  • Antibiotics that are important to treat diseases in humans, like ciprofloxacin, being rampantly used by the industry. This is leading to increased cases of antibiotic resistance in India. For instance, ciprofloxacin resistance is growing rapidly in the country
  • India has no regulation on controlling antibiotic use in the poultry industry, or to control sales of antibiotics to the industry. It is free for all 
  • India has not set any limits for antibiotic residues in chicken 
  • India will have to implement a comprehensive set of regulations including banning of antibiotic use as growth promoters in the poultry industry. Not doing this will put lives of people at risk