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Cremation Toxicity and Roles of Trees at Pashupatinath, #Nepal

NEPAL – 27th August, 2015 Cremation is considered as one of the significant source of air pollution. Lots of toxic gas including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride gas, and hydrogen fluoride, mercury vapor along with carcinogenic organic compounds like benzenes, furans, and acetone are emitted from cremation and these react with the hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride under combustion conditions to form polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). Pashupatinath of Nepal is one of the most sacred site for cremation with religious beliefs and serves to pollute the air in considerable amount. However, no serious issues has been made yet by the public around the territory about respiratory hazards. The reason is the verdant forest in its territory which plays important roles to minimize the cremation toxicity. Trees like Pine, Walnut, Bamboo, Cassia,Banayan, Neem, Ficus religiosa along with wide species of green forest  consume pollutants which plays a vital role in purifying the air in pashupatinath territory.

Pashupatinath is one of the most sacred temple of Hindu in Nepal and one of the sub-continent's greatest Shiva's site.  It is situated in the bank of Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Gaushala. It is the most renowned hindu's cremation site of Nepal. In Hindu rituals, a person after he/she dies, the body is burnt with a belief that the soul gets rest is peace in heaven. Pashupatinath is not only the cremation site for deaths of Kathmandu but even of its nearer districts like Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and others.
During cremation, a body combusts at around 900-1000 degree Celsius. A human body consists of various elements, materials which when burnt produce foul odor and harmful gas.

In pashupatinath, the cremation is open and hence sulfurous odor which is hazardous to health and methane byproducts gas are released into the air. Gaseous emission are the greatest source of cremation pollution. Emissions include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride gas, hydrogen fluoride, mercury vapor which are very harmful. Organic compounds such as benzenes, furans, and acetone are also emitted and these react with the hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride under combustion conditions to form polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) both of which are carcinogens. These compounds have capacity for bio-accumulation and causes potential health hazards to humans. Environmental policies are becoming more and more stringent with respect to the emission limits of potentially toxic pollutants. However, monitoring surveys are important in order to ensure the proper working of cleaning systems, to control the environmental levels, to assess environmental exposure, to evaluate health risks associated with different pollutant sources, and to identify the relative importance emission sources into the atmosphere in order to adopt the necessary measures to protect the environment and the human health. In that context, ambient air monitoring is an essential issue to estimate pollutant emissions such as PCDD/Fs and mercury. (Montse & Jose, 2010)

A study by the Cremation Association of North America has found that filtering crematorium fumes has little effect on the toxins released. But as cremation is openly done in Nepal, it is not possible for filtering crematorium fumes. Cremation is done on woods. Even non-treated wood contains small amounts of chlorine. However, the territory of pashupatinath, except those occupied by temples and monuments, consist of luxurious trees and verdant woods.

The woods in pashupatinath territory consist of pollutants consuming species of Pine, Walnut, Bamboo, Cassia,Banayan, Neem, Ficus religiosa along with wide species of green forest which plays a vital role in purrifying the air in pashupatinath territory.

It is true, however, that, say, a forest around the factory would help clean the air and absorb much of the pollution, so that planting trees is always a good idea, of course. Similarly, in pashupatinath, despite the pollution caused by cremation, the verdant trees have balanced the atmosphere and air health. Trees absorb carbon dioxide to grow and build biomass. One of the best things that trees are good at is removing particulates from the air. The particulates emitted along with gases from the cremated bodies stick to the leaves and are washed off by rain. This is actually a function of the leaves since it means that trees get to catch floating sources. This indeed helps to make the atmosphere and air around pashupatinath free of those harmful particulates emitted from burning bodies. Trees acts as natural air conditioners and air filters. The trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is very essential for all the living creatures on earth. They help in purifying the air by absorbing toxic gases, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, etc. The verdant trees and woods of pashupatinath have also formed deer park for conservation of deer wildlife. Thus, trees and forests in pashupatinath territory is purifying atmosphere on one hand and on the other protecting the deer wild habitat too.

Although, pashupatinath is the largest cremation site of Nepal and is responsible for producing great amount of hazardous gases from cremated bodies, no serious issues regarding health hazards on public has been found yet and this is because of the green trees forest in its territory. Hence, this depicts the roles and importance of nature, greeneries, and trees for protecting human health. Trees are not benefiting us only in sense as source of timbers, foods, medicines but also by purifying the air we breathe each second. So, let's preserve trees, let’s preserve our health.

Bikal Ghimire
Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS)

Tribhuwan University, Nepal

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Cremation Toxicity and Roles of Trees at Pashupatinath, #Nepal Reviewed by Olumide Idowu on Thursday, August 27, 2015 Rating: 5
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