The Gist of Science Reporter: May 2016

The Gist of Science Reporter: May 2016

Tragedy on the Icy Heights

Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, the last surviving brave Indian soldier, finally breathed his last on 11th February 2016 after battling for his life for almost eight days.

An avalanche had buried the soldier’s camp along with nine of his colleagues on the icy heights of the Siachen Glacier on February 3. While the lives of his camp calleagues were snuffed out before rescuers reached them, soldier Hanumanthappa was rescued alive after being buried under 35 feet of snow for six days. However, the soldier lost the struggle for his life two days later.

Surviving at a height of around 19000 feet on the Siachen glacier is all about braving the odds and fighting the elements of nature. It is physically and medically not possible to live in those conditions beyond three months. Our brave soldiers stationed on the icy heights have to battle the extreme cold, in which a bath means a sponge bath and as simple a task as walking is a torture. Snow blizzards further reduce the temperature to as low as 60 degrees below zero. Snowstorms on the Siachen glacier can last for as long as three weeks and winds here can touch speeds of 100 mph in no time. Avalanches are like death from the skies. The avalanches at Siochen are more dangerous as they are solid blocks of ice.

The extreme cold means the food intake is drastically reduced which means soldiers end up losing body weight drastically. With the lack of oxygen at those heights breathing is a big problem. Only 10% of the oxygen is available at those heights as compared to the plains.

Frostbite and high-altitude pulmonary edema are other real dangers. Pulmonary edema is a condition where fluid gets accumulated in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, and may also lead to coughing up blood. High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is another medical condition in which the brain swells with fluid because of the physiological effects of travelling to a high altitude.

It involves disorientation, lethargy, and nausea among other symptoms. Soldiers are also at the risk of getting frostbite if their bare skin touches any metal object, such as the gun trigger, for more than 15 seconds. Fainting spells and pounding headaches are frequent.

Siachen is not for ordinary mortals. It is a place that only a few brave Indian soldiers can dare to venture. Our hearts go out to these brave souls who patrol the country’s borders at such great heights.

Adverse Impact of Pharmaceuticals on the Environment

There are an estimated 1500 active pharmaceutical formulations currently being used worldwide. Few studies have been conducted on the environmental damage these drugs might have on our aquatic and soil organisms, avian and mammalian wildlife and even on how they affect humans, when released into the air and water we breathe.

The plankton present in t e world’s oceans and krill are the best examples of the starting point of food chains that include giant Blue whales and finally end up in humans and their animals. The impact of drugs on the environment can be gauged from the discovery by Dr. Lindsay Oaks and his team in 2003 of diclofenac, a common inflammatory drug administrated to livestock, which caused the decline of vultures that picked it up from the carcasses of animals treated with the drug, widely used in India since the 1990s.

Apical endpoints refer to traditional, directly measured whole-organism outcomes of .exposure ‘in vivo’ tests, generally death, reproductive failure, or developmental dysfunction, observable effects of exposure to a toxic chemical in a test animal and the effects reflect relatively gross changes in animals after substantial durations of exposure. It also measures an observable outcome in a whole organism, such as a clinical sign or pathologic state that is indicative of a disease state that can result from exposure to a toxicant.

The endpoints include lethality, carcinogenicity, immunological responses, organ effects, developmental and reproductive effects, etc. The horrific results of the Bhopal tragedy and endosulfan victims have been highlighted in the media. But the adverse environmental effects of common drugs have been given little publicity or serious study so farr.

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