KANPUR, INDIA, March 18, 2005: With the Hindu festival of colors, Holi, just over a week away, doctors have issued warnings to potential buyers to avoid cheap synthetic colors flooding the markets, which they say could be harmful to the skin. During Holi, revelers toss colored powders on each other as part of the celebration. Eco-friendly herbal colors are available, but their steep prices have kept them out of the reach of the common man. In India's northern Kanpur city, people can be seen thronging stalls selling colors, a deadly cocktail of acids and chemicals which can lead to various skin diseases and sometimes blindness. Most of the colors sold in markets are oxidized metals or industrial dyes.
Residents say despite their repeated requests to the authorities, nothing has been done to check the chemicals. "We have been constantly complaining to the authorities, even local journalists have written about it, but nothing is happening. These people do not pay any taxes and make these colors illegally," said Gyan Prakash. S. Banerjee, a skin specialist, said the synthetic colors are toxic and can result in anything from skin allergies to cancer, eye irritation and blindness. "These chemicals can lead to irritation in the skin, boils and allergies. Sometimes if it happens near the eyes, it can lead to partial blindness or conjunctivitis. One should always take care of the face," he said.
Reports say at least 20 people of one family were admitted to a hospital in the city when they complained of severe eye irritation, after playing Holi with chemical colors. The annual festival, which marks the onset of spring, symbolizes the victory of good over evil.