Ganesh Chaturthi: Plaster of Paris idols ruling the roost

Every year, after the end of the Vinayaka Chavithi festivities, officials of government agencies and NGOs are faced with the arduous task of clearing tonnes of debris and garbage from the city beaches.

Environmentalists have repeatedly pointed to the dangers of using Plaster of Paris (PoP) in making the idols but till date, there has been no clear policy on this issue. Several governments have made efforts to ban the sale of PoP idols but the move has faced tough resistance.

Experts say that the main issue here is the absence of a detailed study on the matter and the lack of a sustained campaign to highlight the dangers of using polluting substances in the making of idols.

Toxic material

"If we look at the chemical composition of PoP, the material is developed by heating gypsum in temperatures ranging from 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It again turns to gypsum when it comes in contact with water. Gypsum is a naturally occurring substance, and the idol-makers argue that it is harmless. On the other side, there is an argument that PoP and the chemical paints that are used to colour the idols contain heavy metals, which are toxic," said Prof. P.V.V. Prasada Rao, Head of the Department of Environment Sciences at Andhra University.

The paint that is used contains heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, which can lead to neurological disorders and cancer.

A senior biologist from AU said that once the PoP idols are immersed in water, be it in a river or the sea, the heavy metals present in the idols are dissolved in the water and enter the food chain through marine species and agricultural produce.

Environmentalist Bolisetti Satyanarayana said that once PoP idols are immersed, the material turns to gypsum paste and damages the ecology of water bodies and causes a drop in dissolved oxygen. The toxic chemicals used in painting the idols also increase the toxin levels in the water.

Awareness on the rise

A couple of decades ago, Vinayaka Chavithi celebrations were mostly limited to households. But over the years, public celebrations have gained ground. Today, in the city alone, about 2,000 pandals are erected and in most cases, the idols exceed a height of four feet.

"Till about five to six years ago, 90% of the idols installed in the pandals were made of PoP, but now there is a slow but steady change with organisers coming forward to use clay or eco-friendly idols," said an officer from the A.P. Pollution Control Board.

Starting from home

"Making the switch to clay idols is the only solution and we have been promoting this in schools," said J.V. Ratnam of Paryavaran Margadarsi Vaisakhi (PMV).

"More than the idols in the pandals, almost every household performs the puja and the number of such idols goes into lakhs. The awareness should start at home," he said.

Artisans from Bengal

With the awareness for clay idols picking up, artisans from West Bengal are flocking to the city.

They shift to the city a couple of months ahead of Vinayaka Chavithi and stay here till the end of Dasara, making clay idols.

Binoy Pal, who was among the first to move to the city, said that awareness for clay idols even among households is picking up. "We make close to 300 idols of sizes varying from 15 inches to eight feet. We use eco-friendly material such as clay, jute and bamboo," he said.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 10:07:00 AM |

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