Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural holiday for the Irish & a religious feast day for most Christians. In the US, it has lost any religious meaning & is mostly celebrated by politicians & alcoholics claiming to be Irish. This year it is also Holi, a Hindu religious festival celebrating the victory of good over evil & the arrival of spring (similar to Easter in the Christian tradition). The distinctive thing about Holi is its free-for-all use of colored powders which are strewn all over families & strangers, friends & foe. Because of its joyous character & due to the Indian diaspora, it is now popularly celebrated in many countries.
Traditionally, the vibrant colored powders were plant-based, including herbs, berries, flowers, leaves, trees, & had medicinal purpose in Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric, neem, sandalwood, gooseberries, chick peas, grapes, hibiscus, marigolds, pomegranate, beetroot, saffron were all mixed with flours & pastes to make up the powders & provide some medicinal charms along with the frolics & celebration of love.
Today, the natural ingredients have been replaced by chemically produced industrial dyes & minerals not only lacking medicinal purposes but causing many health problems from inhalation, ingestion, & skin contact. Reportedly, many celebrants wear nose masks & sun glasses to avoid inhaling pigments or exposing their eyes to chemical injury. One of the chief ingredients of the synthetic powders is called gulal which contains small crystals of mica to give a sparkling effect.
Mica is a mineral with thousands of industrial uses, including in the mineral makeups sold at a hefty price. The Dr. Oz Show has actually warned women about potential health hazards from repeated use of mineral makeup. Construction workers who work with mica products wear masks to prevent inhalation. Mica has been used for a few thousand years so it’s remarkable how little modern science has evaluated its toxic properties. The Center for Disease Control in the US claims to know almost nothing about it but the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (no vanguard on toxic work conditions for workers) reports that respiratory illness, anemia, & weight loss are associated with inhalation. The mica Material Safety Data Sheet (the MSDS is provided by manufacturers & includes only the most damning side effects) says mica is hazardous in cases of ingestion, inhalation, skin & eye contact.
So why the hell would mica be included in ingredients for Holi celebrations which include children, elderly, & those with health issues!? And why is this young Indian worker sifting gulal powder at a factory near Siliguri not provided protective equipment–most importantly a respirator, safety goggles, & skin protection!? Such reckless endangerment of the health & lives of working people has become the norm & unions have done damn little to address it. Safety is a primary issue for working people. They need unions that will fight for them, not just rake in dues money to feed ungrateful politicians & enrich labor fat cats.
(Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)