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Water pollution caused by toxic chemical paints

Impact of chemical paints on water bodies

Besides the environmental issues caused by Plaster of Paris, immersion of Ganesh idols also creates water pollution due to the use of toxic chemical paints. Normally people would like their idols to be brightly and beautifully painted and lately one can see metallic colours like gold and silver being used abundantly on the Ganesh idols.

How are paints made?

Paints were traditionally made from natural colors, and pigments found in vegetables, fruits, minerals etc. Nowadays paints that are used on Ganesh idols are industrially produced through chemical processes The basic structure of paint uses pigments, binders, and other such additives. Industrial paints use binders and additives that are synthetic. These additives and binders made from chemicals which impact the ecology of water bodies negatively. Industrial paints are loaded with metals such as lead, calcium, cadmium and other such chemicals. When any amount of paint is led off into the water bodies it will cause water pollution by causing the amount of heavy metals present in water to fluctuate.

In its most basic form, paint consists of color (the pigment) and the glue in which the pigment is suspended (the binder). Many paints also contain ingredients that add texture and bulk (fillers), a thinner (the solvent) and other additives, such as biocides and drying catalysts.
Pigments. Safer alternatives to the toxic compounds and heavy metals used to color conventional paint include natural pigments derived from plants, insects, iron oxides and minerals. These are usually in powder form.
Binders. Binders keep paint glued to a surface. The acrylic and vinyl binders in commercial paints are derived from the byproducts of refining crude oil. The binders in natural paints rely instead on materials such as starch (from flour), casein (the protein in milk) and linseed oil (from pressed flax seeds).
Fillers. Fillers create texture and add bulk to paint. Common fillers include whiting (powdered chalk), talcum, limestone, silica and marble. Clay is a popular filler to pair with flour, because it reinforces the binding ability of starch, and it’s abundant and potentially free if you have clay soil.
Solvents. Solvents, or thinners, help achieve a workable consistency. The solvents in commercial paints are usually made from organic materials, but they will evaporate or “outgas,” causing that new paint smell. The outgassing of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and fatigue, especially in areas that are not well ventilated. The hazards are significantly worse for people who paint regularly. Natural solvents such as citrus thinners and natural turpentine are preferable, but they can still emit low levels of VOCs.
Additives. Commercial paint manufacturers frequently include several additives in their products, but they aren’t required to list them on the can. Additives include plasticizers, foaming and antifoaming agents, driers, biocides that inhibit the growth of mold, and ingredients that improve water resistance or opacity.


What do paints contain?

Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic are commonly found in industrial paints. Each one of these has severe toxic effects on living beings, and tend to accumulate in acquatic food chains. When levels of these exceed tolerable limits one can see dead fish floating in water bodies. When levels of these metals are lower they may get absorbed in the bodies of the fishes and accumulate in the food chain. When such fish are eaten by humans they pose a risk to human health.

To read more about symptoms of exposure and impacts of heavy metals on human health visit

Water solubility does not mean that a paint is non toxic

Often Ganesh sculptors and devotees feel that if a paint is water soluble it is safe for use. This is not necessarily true. Water solubility does not ensure that the paint does not have a heavy metal content. In fact, toxic paints that are water soluble more easily transmit these heavy metals to water bodies.

Standards for non toxic paints

Since paints are so commonly used by human beings, in homes, construction and even by children for recreational activities, there are now standards being developed for eco friendly safe non toxic paints. These standards focus on three main points : the emissions released by chemical paints (VOC : Volatile Organic Compounds), chemical contents of the paint itself and the durability of the paint.


Natural pigments and paints that can be used on Ganesh idols

Traditionally paints were made from natural sources such as vegetables or minerals. There are still some of these very easily available that can be used to paint Ganesh idols – ingredients such as turmeric, earth from multan or red earth are readily accessible even in cities. There are paints made from natural raw ingredients such as water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oils; natural minerals such as clay, chalk and talcum; milk casein, natural latex, bees' wax, earth and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints give off almost no smell. The oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant fragrance of citrus or essential oils. Allergies and sensitivities to these paints is uncommon. These paints are the safest for your health and for the environment.

You can find recipes at

Read more about natural paints at

Water treatment during immersion

Even though some cities have now provided water tanks for Ganesh immersion, they still need to ensure that the water in these tanks is properly treated before it is put back into rivers or the sea. Plaster of Paris idols with chemical paints that get immersed into such tanks are collected and have to be disposed off in an ecosensitive manner. Companies who specialize in water treatment should be invited to provide solutions to ensure that the water in these tanks does not pose a hazard.

However, the most ideal solution would be to avoid the use of chemical paints on Ganesh idols completely.


Wikipedia- Paint :
Wikipedia- Environmental issues of chemical paints :
Wikipedia- Environmental impact of paint:

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