Formalin Contamination

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Context: Various state governments have banned the import of fish due to scare of formalin contamination, instances of formalin laced fishes being seized have been reported. This has necessitated the need for stringent checking measures that are being initiated by concerned state governments.

What is Formalin and what are its uses?

  • A colorless flammable chemical which is an aqueous solution of formaldehyde and is used as an anti decomposition agent.
  • It is carcinogenic in nature.
  • It is also used as fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant.
  • In mortuaries, it is used as a preservative for bodies and organs as an embalming fluid.

Formaldehyde- It is a simple chemical compound made of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. All life forms – bacteria, plants, fish, animals, and humans – naturally produce formaldehyde as part of cell metabolism.

Why is fish laced with formalin?

  • Fish is a highly perishable commodity. If it isn’t maintained at the proper temperature of 5 degrees Celsius, it gets spoilt. To increase its shelf life, the sellers now use chemicals such as formalin and ammonia.
  • Since the point of sale is far from the place of catch, formalin is used as a preservative to keep the fish fresh for 15-20 days. Ammonia is mixed with the water that is frozen to keep fish fresh.

How to identify fish laced with formalin?

  • When formalin is used in a fish, the fish retains the red colored gills.
  • Fresh fish has a salty smell that is associated with clean seas.
  • Interestingly, fish shop with flies should be preferred, because the flies can tell whether the fish have been contaminated.

What are the effects on health?

  • Watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.
  • Increased risk of leukemia, blood cancer, and other lymphomas.
  • Irritation to mucous membrane like throat, respiratory tract causing sore throats, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
  • Formalin causes kidney and liver problems.

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