Not too long ago the Ghana Standards Board ( GSB) issued a statement that it had found eleven brands of mosquito coil on the local market to be dangerous and harmful to uman health.
The eleven dangerous coils (Sunshine, Black, Yaxin, Target, Tashu, RAD Black Tiger, Verise, Wisdom, Touba, TLC and Tonba Joy) were said to contain allethrin and S-2, banned chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The statement said S-2 contains a carcinogenic chemical that causes cancer, and allethrin, though safe for killing mosquitoes, excessive exposure to its smoke from burning coils may have adverse effects on human health.
“The set limits of these active ingredients (GS 147:1992-Standard Specification for mosquito coils), was being enforced,” the statement said.
The general public was advised to be wary of the mosquito coils flooding the markets and look out for the dangerous ones.Well, a lot has happened since then, considering the fact that even the regulatory body itself has assumed a new name - Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).
Today, there is a host of mosquito coils wherever mosquitoes abound. While some brands say they repel mosquitoes, others claim they kill them “dead.”
However, there are suggestions that there are no safe mosquito coils. Some are quoting research in Asia and the US that inhaling smoke from mosquito coils is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.
According to the claims, apart from filling lungs with poison, the mosquito coil is both deleterious and responsible for some unexplained fires in our communities.
Mosquito coils burn for about eight hours and although they are recommended for out-door use, or for use in semi-enclosed places like patios and porches, coils are often used overnight in some poorly ventilated sleeping places.
Not long ago New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV) in India reported claims by researchers that a mosquito coil burning all-night in a room (about 8 hours) equals smoking about100 cigarettes.
The director of the Indian Chest Research Foundation (CRF), Dr Sandeep Salvi, who was credited with the story, attracted a lot of headlines with the claim that smoke emitted from one mosquito repellent coil can cause a lot of harm.
Dr Salvi, himself quoting a study conducted in Malaysia, said, "Not many people know about it, but the damage done to your lungs by one mosquito coil is equivalent to the damage done by 100 cigarettes"
The scary news about mosquito coils was presented by Dr Salvi at a conference on 'Air Pollution and Our Health', organised by the Indian Council for Medical Research, the Indian Medical Association and other stakeholders.
In another development, a study at the Taiwanese Institute of Medicine, Chung Shan Medical University, Taichung, said about 50 per cent of lung cancer deaths in Taiwan are not related to cigarette smoking, as usually assumed.
The hospital-based study to determine lung cancer risks posed by mosquito coils claimed that the risk of lung cancer was significantly higher in the frequent use of mosquito coils.
Other experts refer to a report in an American journal on environmental health which claimed that the pollutants released by mosquito coils exceed air safety levels.
The report is said to have emphasised that the billows of smoke from the burning coil that keeps the mosquitoes at bay, also find their way into the lungs of humans.
Sometimes a mosquito coil user catches a cold, his nose gets stuffed up and his throat is scratchy.
According to experts, mosquito coils are made mostly from a chemical named pyrethrum, which stings the eyes of mosquitoes and thus keep them at bay.
Pyrethrum has been in use for centuries as an insecticide, and is well trusted. It is a natural extract from the chrysanthemum flower, produced by drying the leaves of the flower. Breathing in too much smoke is also said to increase the risk of asthma and cause persistent wheezing in children.
Smokeless coils do not make things any easier because the harmful substances are still in the coil.
According to reports, pyrethrum enters the lungs while breathing, and at high doses, can potentially damage the central nervous and immune systems.
Common symptoms from exposure to pyrethrum can include headache, nausea, vomiting, skin or eye irritation and inflammation. If ingested, it can cause numbing of the tongue and lips, convulsions, muscular fibrillation, respiratory issues and even death.
The impression here is that far from being a spiral of protection as intended, the mosquito coil has become a spiral of affliction.
Mosquito coils are also made from substances like coconut husk, sawdust and dyes to keep them burning for up to eight hours.
Another chemical used in mosquito coils, formaldehyde, a colourless, flammable and strong smelling gas, is said to affect the nose.
Inhaling it could cause watery eyes, throat discomfort, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation. Also, it can cause nasal or sinus cancer and even leukaemia, experts say.
The amount of formaldehyde released from burning one mosquito coil can be as high as smoking 51 cigarettes, some researchers say. Formaldehyde is not an ingredient of mosquito coils but a by-
product of burning them.
Octachlorodipropyl ether, simply known as S-2, is a pesticide which when burned, releases bischloromethyl ether (also called BCME) a strong and harmful chemical that causes lung cancer.
As a result people are exposed to a chemically complex mosquito coil smoke containing small particles, metal fumes and vapours that can damage the lung.
The dangers are said to be in the fact that sometimes manufacturers intentionally do not list the banned harmful ingredients on the packaging of the mosquito coils.
Well, discerning minds are wondering if it is reasonable to condone mosquito coils while we continue to abhor cigarette smoking.
American historian of science, Professor Robert Proctor formerly of Pennsylvania State University and currently at Stanford Universite book in which he described smoking as a golden holocaust that claims millions of lives.
Now, what description do we give the mosquito coil which is said to present even more danger?
The arguments against passive smoking are so convincing that a ban of public smoking became inevitable. The smoking ban is based on the argument that smoking is optional, whereas breathing is not.
Therefore, the ban aims to protect air quality and prevent the dangers of passive or second hand smoke, which include heart disease and cancer.
Epidemiologists have been urged to take an interest in mosquito coils due to the number of people exposed and the potency of BCME, following the research at the University of California by Bob Krieger, Travis Dinoff and Xiaofei Zhang.
As we wait for a definite action on
mosquito coils, there is only one advice to help reduce side effects. Mosquito coils must be lighted half an hour before bed time. It should be done, after closing doors and windows of the room and after switching off fans.
After half an hour, all doors and windows should be opened and left open for some time, before closing them and going to bed. Only after that is the room safe, according to experts.
But how easy is it to convince those whose sleeping places are not sealed enough to keep a room mosquito-free after burning a coil? Such people have no option but to keep the coil burning, and pretty close too, to keep the “malaria transmitters” away.
One thing to chew on for now, though, is that if indeed the coil can be deadly as the cigarette, does that not demand a health (sorry, death) warning on the packaging!
By Carlton Cofie – Ghana