Dr Diana Ogutu, a medical practitioner, said consumption of the chemical could lead to throat sores, coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath and that these can occur soon after exposure.

“More exposure may cause a build-up of fluids in lungs,” Dr Ogutu said, adding that high amounts of calcium carbide could weaken the body and lead to breathing complications.

Dr Daniel Sila, a food science technologist at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said regular exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcers.

“Calcium carbide is hazardous to the human body as it contains arsenic and phosphorus. It is banned in many countries but it is freely used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal,” Dr Sila said.

He accused the Pesticides Control Products Board of negligence as it has not blacklisted calcium carbide despite its serious health risks.

According to Dr Jane Njiru, a scientist with the board, banning the chemical is not easy.

“If people are diverting a product for other uses other than the registered one, then it is misuse. It is difficult to ban a product because of that,” she said.

In Kenya, only ethephone and etherel have been approved by the board for ripening fruits.

LEAD POISONING

Scientists also caution that most of the sukuma wiki sold in Nairobi could contain dangerous amounts of lead.

The lead in the vegetable, grown on river beds and near sewers, might cause decreased or stunted growth in children, learning disabilities and kidney damage, says Dr Wycliff Guto of Christa Marriane Hospital.

“Lead can also cause brain damage, infertility, high blood pressure, memory loss and muscle and joint pains in adults,” he added. 

To make matters worse for Nairobi residents, non-packet milk sample tests by Kenyatta University nutrition students revealed higher-than-recommended amounts of hydrogen peroxide — used as a preservative — and formalin, also used to preserve bodies in mortuaries.

Dr James Kinyua said ingestion of small amounts of hydrogen peroxide would have no toxicological effects due to rapid decomposition of the chemical in intestines.

“But ingestion of higher concentrations — more than six per cent — can result in burns,” he added.

These revelations raise public health concerns, especially in the wake of a steep rise in the number of cancer cases.

Cancer is the third killer disease in Kenya. According to Nairobi Cancer Registry, 38,544 new cases were diagnosed in 2012, with 26,941 deaths occurring the same year.

A source at Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate, said the agency does not have the equipment to test for some of chemicals in imported foods.

Apart from various feeds used to hasten growth of poultry, other peculiar feed has been added to the list; antoretroviral drugs.

The ARVs are meant to increase the appetite of chickens and help them gain and maintain weight. These chickens are sold to restaurants.

Eating chicken fed on ARVs is indirectly taking the HIV drugs, says Dr Humphrey Mbugua of Kenya Poultry Breeders’ Association.

ARVs work through suppressing or killing virus particles, thus reducing the destruction of CD4 cells. 

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