Medical and health experts have warned Nigerians against using chemicals to ripen fruits, saying substances like carbide are responsible for the rising cases of liver, kidney and cancer in the country.
In separate interviews with the press in some North Central states of the country, the experts called for stiff penalties for those indulging in the practice so as to curtail it.
Director Public Health, Nasarawa State Ministry of Health, Dr Ibrahim Adamu, said chemicals used to ripen fruits could affect the liver and kidney.
“The chemicals could also cause cancer because the entire ripening process is usually unwholesome,’’ Adamu said.
The expert regretted that most people indulging in the act were ignorant of the consequences and needed to be educated on the dangers of their action.
Adamu, who identified carbide as the chemical commonly used to ripen mangoes and bananas artificially, said that the trend was responsible for the rising cases of kidney and liver diseases.
The official said that the ministry, in line with the directive of the Federal Government, had embarked on sensitisation programmes to alert people on the dangers posed by such practice.
“We are now trying to meet with the fruit sellers in order to educate them because some of them may not know the dangers of their actions.
We also intend to engage security agencies after sensitising the communities and cautioning the fruits sellers on the dangers of their actions in order to stem the tide,” Adamu said.
He said that the ministry was already collaborating with the state House of Assembly to enact laws for effective prosecution of those found guilty of such unwholesome practices.
Some fruit sellers in Lafia, who spoke with the press, confirmed that the practice of using carbide to ripen fruits was common in most urban settlements.
Some of them attributed the practice to the quest for quick turn over, adding that some of the culprits are not aware of the health implication of their actions.
“Most of the artificial ripening agents are used on bananas, mangoes and oranges,’’ a woman fruit seller, who refused to reveal her name, said.
According to her: “If you see banana spotting a green stem under yellowish body that has tiny black spots, carbide has been used on it.
“Normally, the stem falls off easily, but a lot of people do not know this.”
But, while fruit sellers in Nasarawa admit the evil practice, their counterparts in Plateau have claimed that the trend was not common in the hilly state.
Some of them, who spoke with press in Jos, Mangu and Pankshin, claimed that they had never applied chemicals on the fruits they sell because they were enlightened and aware of the health implications.
“We hardly force fruits to ripe in Plateau because we source all of them around our houses.
What a lot of us do is to pluck the fruits from trees likes guava, water melon and mangoes; in most cases, they are almost ripe. All we do is to continue the natural ripening process at home because when they get ripe on top of the trees, they fall off from the trees and rot,’’ Theresa Abah, a fruit seller at Hwolshe, she said.
However, Happiness Shehu, who described herself as “a lover of fruits’’, said that fruit vendors hardly admit that they apply chemicals to ripen fruits so as not to drive customers away.
She said that fruits like Avocado Pear, when plucked unripe, does not have a good taste, aside the health dangers.
“Usually, it is left for customers to be observant and be careful while deciding where to buy the fruits from.
Again, consumers of fruits must ensure that the fruits are thoroughly washed before consumption to avoid the health dangers,’’ she advised.
A public health expert, Dr Juliette Ango, said that artificially ripened fruits may contain high acidic content which may be bad for the gastro intestinal system.
“The effects depends on the chemicals used to ripen these fruits; generally, the extra chemicals used for this process serve as carcinogens which is a substance or agent that can cause cancer when it disrupts the Power of Hydrogen(PH) in the body.
The PH of the body is the measure of hydrogen concentration which is normally 7.35 and 7.45; the body needs to maintain an optimum acid-base balance to ensure that the various processes in the system operate without problems,’’ she said.
A Nutritionist, Sunday Amos said that calcium carbide used to support fruit ripening, releases acetylene when mixed with water.
“The acetylene is used for welding; unfortunately, it is the same substance that is used to support fruit ripening,’’he said.
According to him, the natural air people breath also contains acetylene but the concentration is lower and could be tolerated by the body.
“But when you ripen fruits artificially with calcium carbide, one cannot control that high amount of acetylene that goes into the fruit.
The effect of eating fruits ripened with calcium carbide can be immediate. It can cause acute reactions in the short-term like headache, vomiting, stomach disorders and allergic reactions, among others.
In the long term, it could lead to heart failure, skin diseases. But the greatest threat is that it is carcinogenic and causes cancer,’’ he warned.
A Consultant Nephrologist ,Dr Salim Aziz, said that aside acetylene, calcium carbide had some other impurities that were harmful to health.
“Calcium carbide is a known carcinogen, a cancer-producing chemical. Irrespective of what quantity you may consume, the chemical is known to have harmful effects on the liver and other parts of the body.
It also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride which produces several acute and chronic health effects,” Aziz said
According to him, the early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus poisoning include vomiting, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, diarrhoea, thirst and weakness.
Others include difficulty in swallowing, irritation or burning of the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers on the skin, irritation in the mouth, nose and throat.
Throat sores, cough, wheezing and shortness of breath may also occur soon after exposure to the chemical, he said, adding that higher exposure may cause a build-up of fluids in the lungs.
“Eating artificially ripened mangoes causes stomach upset because the alkaline substance is an irritant that erodes the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts intestinal function.
A prolonged exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcer,” Aziz added.