Using sulphur as a preservative while drying apricots has become a major trend in Gilgit-Baltistan.It preserves the apricots for a longer term as well as gives them a perfect orange color. Not knowing the health and environmental hazards of sulphur dioxide, the natives of GB use kilos of sulphur daily in the apricot season. Although, sulphur is considered as a nontoxic and cheap preservative, however even a small amount of sulfite can wreak health disorder if you’re sensitive to it. If you have asthma, sulfite sensitivity or sulfite allergy, eating dried fruits might cause serious health problems, including breathing problems, life-threatening allergy-like symptoms or, in rare cases, death. Moreover, production of sulphur dioxide in large quantities may cause acid rain leading to several health issues in the local residents. This acid rain may also damage the quality of other fruits and vegetables in that season. Most importantly, the one who fires the sulphur in the chamber is at a great risk of inhaling these toxic compounds.
Scientifically, if one unit of sulphur is burnt two units of sulphur dioxide are formed, which means that if 100 grams of sulphur is burnt daily in each house than 200 grams of sulphur dioxide is released to the atmosphere from each house. This quantity varies from house to house depending on the amount of apricots dried using sulphuring technique. Each year in the month of June, July and August each household burn almost one kilo sulphur on average. In addition to this, compounds of sulphur can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death.
Considering the impacts of sulphur dioxide and other toxic compounds generated from sulphuring, on health and environment, I would suggest the local residents to take following precautionary measures while sulphuring apricots:
The local authorities should provide alternate preservatives, which shall be cheap as well as health and environment friendly.
- Minimum amount of sulphur shall be purchased as in case it is wasted, may cause serious soil and water contamination in the area.
- While firing the sulphur, the user shall keep in mind that the inhalation of fumes may cause suffocation and may lead to serious health issues. If possible, the user shall use mouth mask to inhibit inhalation of small particles generated while sulphuring.
- The drying system shall be air tight while sulphuring the apricots but the area should be open. The air tight drying system shall be in an open area to avoid accumulation of toxic compounds in one area.
- Minimum amount of sulphur shall be used as it changes the original taste of dry apricots.
- Kids shall not be allowed to roam around the drying system, while sulphuring the apricots
- The stand used to place the layers of the apricots shall be made up of wood or some other less reactive material. The compounds of sulphur may react with metals to form various toxic compounds.
- Last but not the least, the natives shall prefer to eat natural dry fruits instead of sulphured ones.