Fish or formalin?
News of the high content of formalin or formaldehyde in fish, particularly those originating from southern states and West Bengal, has caused massive alarm across Assam and the Northeast.
News of the high content of formalin or formaldehyde in fish, particularly those originating from southern states and West Bengal, has caused massive alarm across Assam and the Northeast. While a renowned pathologist from Kozhikode in Kerala was the first to have reported the presence of this chemical in fish as early as January this year, news has spread in the last few days in Assam that fish coming from other states have alarming proportions of the chemical, which is dangerous for human beings. Like the Kerala pathologist, it was a finding by a college in Nagaon that the formalin content in fish being sold and consumed in the central Assam district was as high as 15 percent. According to reports, studies have shown over 15 percent formalin and 0.003 percent cadmium, along with 0.15 percent arsenic, in fish coming in from the southern states to Assam and the Northeast. While exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may irritate your eyes, nose, throat, airways, or skin in humans, people who may be more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde are the very young, the very old, and people with asthma and other breathing problems. But then, exposure to very high levels of formaldehyde over many years is reported to have caused rare nose and throat cancers in certain countries. There are also reports saying that higher levels of formaldehyde exposure can also cause skin rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing, and changes in lung function. According to one report, ingesting large amounts of formaldehyde can generally cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, coma, renal injury, and possible death. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and WHO, on the other hand, have classified formaldehyde as “carcinogenic to humans” with sufficient evidence for causing nasopharyngeal cancer in humans. While it is good that fewer people have been buying and consuming imported fish in Assam in the past few days, the Assam Director of Fisheries has asked four institutes of the state to conduct in-depth research and inquiry to ascertain the veracity of the claims. According to reports, letters have been sent to the zoology department of Gauhati University, the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR, North East Region), the College of Fisheries (Raha), and the College of Veterinary Sciences (AAU, Guwahati). The formalin scare, meanwhile, has caused the price of locally produced fish to shoot up in the past few days, with unscrupulous sellers taking advantage of the situation. What is good, however, is that there is now an opportunity to reduce, if not stop altogether, the import of fish from other states and promote locally produced fish. What steps the health authorities have taken, however, are yet to be known.