Medi snips | Sunday Observer

Medi snips

7 June, 2020

World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5 this year with a difference. While the focus was on plastic overuse and its adverse impact on the environment, the emergence of a highly contagious airborne virus – Covid-19 created further threats to the environment.

In an exclusive on line interview with the Sunday Observer Consultant Community Physician of the Environmental and Occupational Health Unit of the Health Ministry, Dr Inoka Suraweera responded to our questions on both the continuing threat of plastic pollution as well as how society as a whole can prevent unnecessary exposure to the Covid-19 virus .

She said there was now a rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products and most countries did not have the capacity to manage plastic wastes. “Improper management of plastics creates air pollution, water and especially marine pollution and soil pollution mainly in developing countries due to inefficient or non existent systems of plastic waste management.

This problem needs urgent attention and solutions, she said. Commenting on the health impacts of plastics that are not properly disposed of or recycled , she said one danger was that they could degrade into small pieces – microplastics which could both absorb and give off chemicals and harmful pollutants. “These chemicals can stay in the environment for a long time, In addition some plastics contain hazardous chemicals. Plastics that contain certain chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties have the potential of affecting human reproduction adversely”, she said.

Replying to our question on whether the illegal logging of trees resulting in Sri Lanka losing over 60% of forest cover had in any way contributed to the recent floods and prolonged droughts experienced in country, she said trees absorb carbon dioxide for photo synthesis and having adequate forest cover would help reduce green gas emissions. “Environment protection is a multi stakeholder responsibility. Proper planning and implementation of programs are needed to achieve this”, she stressed.

Impact on environment by Covid-19

Asked about the likely impacts of the contagious airborne virus Covid-19 and its impact on the environment, she said there were both positive and negative aspects . “We all know that restrictions in movement have lessened the pollution levels as the air is cleaner now. However simple measures needed to prevent Covid-19 can have environmental impacts, such as unwise use of chemicals .discarding used masks and gloves improperly – which can result in environmental pollution”, she informed.

Asked who were most vulnerable occupation wise, she said that those occupations which cannot practice basic measures of Covid-19 prevention such as physical distancing, disinfection of surfaces , washing hands and practising respiratory etiquette were more vulnerable. They included health care workers, salon workers , industries with large numbers of workers, garbage cleaners etc.

Responding to our question as to whether dust and plastics that clog our rivers can carry the virus along with them to the rivers and streams where people bathe and collect water, she said,” This is a novel virus and evidence is still emerging ion most areas. According to present knowledge this virus can survive up to 72 hours on average in different surfaces and material. “. She added that it was also highly unlikely to happen according to current knowledge.

How Covid-19 is transmitted

On how the virus can be transmitted she listed the following: The transmission of Covid-19 may happen as follows:

• Person to person transmission by direct contact with an infected person. (Eg: hugging, shaking hands). The virus can enter the body through nose, mouth or eyes.

• When an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales, surfaces and objects can get contaminated due to deposition of droplets containing the novel corona virus. If an uninfected person touches such surfaces, the hands of that person can get contaminated with the novel corona virus. When he/she touches the face, nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands, the novel corona virus can enter the body and infect the person.

In a final message to our readers she reiterated that we need to leave a healthy planet for our children and future generations. Adults had a duty to inculcate good practises that help children prevent plastic pollution of the environment and live in harmony with nature. A healthy livable planet is the best gift we can give our children”, she said.