Connect with us

Opinion

Why not bury post-Covid corpses?

Published

on

The most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a dead body is to compost it in the correct manner, ensuring that the corpse does not contain harsh chemicals, heavy metals, etc., that can be toxic to the soil. During composting, temperatures rise sufficiently to kill all pathogens. The Seattle-based “Recompose” is one of the more well-known US organizations which offer the ecological composting of corpses, where the corpse is placed in a vessel with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Oxygen is pumped in to increase thermophilic, or heat-loving, microbial activity. The resulting compost is returned to the family who may plant a memorial tree with the manure.

While “Greens” and eco-activists may go for such solutions, the vast majority of humans follow traditional funeral practices. The Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened the question of how to safely dispose of corpses that may be contaminated with the virus, and a knee-jerk reaction has been to cremate the corpses and so “burn off” the virus, as with victims of Cholera or the plague.

The cholera pathogen, the hepatitis virus, the polio virus and many other pathogens persist in water. This is not true for the Corona virus that caused the current pandemic.

Once a person dies of Covid-19, the Coronavirus also dies rapidly, as the dead cells decay. The Corona-SARs group of viruses (that caused SARS in 2003, and Covid-19 from 2019 to now) are a type of protein that degrades fairly quickly. It belongs to the family known as “enveloped viruses”. In fact, if you get the virus on your hands, just rubbing it for 30 seconds with soapy water is proposed to be enough to break down the virus by the action of soap on the fatty “envelope”. As a Guardian news article stated, “your grandma’s bar of soap destroys the virus faster than hand sanitizer”.

In Sri Lanka the prevailing temperature is 30-33 degrees, and so the rates of decay (denaturing of proteins) increase by a factor of two over that at 20 Celsius, because of the exponential Arrhenius factor. Salts and hard water act to breakdown proteins by the so-called Hofmeister effect; that also led us to propose an ionicity mechanism based on fluoride and magnesium for the aetiology of chronic kidney disease [Dharma-wardana, 2018: Environmental Geochemistry and Health]. So, ideally, a theoretical prediction can be made that a salty, soapy environment will rapidly breakdown the Coronavirus. Furthermore, the moist soil contains organisms that feed on the virus (protein) and this accelerates the decay of the virus.

So the alleged danger to the public from burying corpses seems mostly a knee-jerk FEAR REACTION – fearing the unknown. However, it is important to look at Coronavirus decay data and such data were certainly NOT available in March 2020, although data were available for the Corona-SARs virus [e.g., Gundy et al, 2009 study]. An Australian study of the Coronavirus and the Murine Hepatitis Vaccine (MHV) became available in 2020 August [Ahamed et al., Env. Research 2020]. So there is a significant database to consult.

Then what about reports of the virus being found in wastewater? What has been found in wastewater is NOT the virus, but DNA/RNA fragments of the virus, resulting from the quick breakdown of the virus. These are amino-acid fragments and form markers that tell us that the Covid-infected individuals were at the source of the waste water. The water itself is not infectious.

The total number of dead from the Coronavirus in Sri Lanka from the first wave was about 16, and including the second wave it is still a little over 200. So this is an incredibly good achievement, being an order of magnitude better per capita than in most countries. Of the dead, at most some 40% are said to be Muslims. That is, the number of corpses is under 80. These could have been conveniently buried in hilly locations, in areas where Muslim communities exist. The non-use of embalming, etc., practiced in Muslim burials, enhance the decay rate of the body and any envelop-type viruses in it.

The Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) released a statement saying it was permissible for bodies to be buried in leak-proof plastic bags. Progressive Jewish groups have issued similar statements.

Given the chemistry of proteins, and the structure of the Corona-SARS virus, an environmentally more friendly and completely safe solution would be to bury the bodies in wooden coffins, fully packed with soap powder, with the bottom of the grave lined with hygroscopic salts, or lined even with crushed limestone. The oxygenated composting methods used by, say, the Seattle firm RECOMPOSE can also be easily adapted to the problem.

Sri Lanka has some 40,000 Corona cases (i.e., nothing compared to what Western countries are grappling with). A majority of these people may be isolated and quarantined in their own homes; their urine and excreta go into latrines, and the stuff is usually flushed down or washed down and go into sewers or septic tanks. The latrine waste from 40,000 should be enormously more dangerous than the 80 decaying buried corpses. But no one seems concerned about how the latrine waste is disposed of. Reassuringly, no intact Coronaviruses have been found in wastewater.

High numbers of viral particles are shed by infected individuals (e.g., 1 g of feces from an infected individual may contain as high as ten trillion rotaviruses [Mihail, 2011 study]) and infections can occur from low doses of viral particles ( 1-10 particles for some viruses [Ford T.E., Microbiological safety of drinking water: United States and global perspectives. Environ. Health Perspect. 1999;107:191-206]). So understanding the ability of viruses to survive in water is important.

One may still raise questions and continue the research by adding coronavirus to wet soil and monitoring them. Nevertheless, authorities need to make decisions now, even with incomplete data. The WHO did just that already in April 2020, using the known behavior of other SARS viruses.

What about Covid affected dead minks in Denmark that were buried and become a hazard?

In fact, the health hazard that arose from burying dead minks does NOT come from there being Coronaviruses or that the Coronavirus gets transmitted to the water table. The danger came from burying large amounts of meat (millions of minks) in shallow trenches. The rotting meat develops large amounts of hazardous bacteria and standard pathogens. Although this may be obvious to environmental and public health scientists, the public reading the Danish Mink story assumed that the danger arose from the Coronavirus. A false assumption.

The lesson from the Danish Mink story is that all corpses, be it animal or human, sick or healthy, should be buried in graves whose bottoms are significantly above the local water table.

The famed Virologist Dr. Malik Pieries (Hong Kong) was a scientific leader facing the SARs virus epidemic in 2003-2004. He has also stated that the fear of burying the dead is not supported by the available science.

Is this creating one law for the Muslims, and another for the others? No, everyone may cremate or bury their dead, the latter option being subject to ensuring that the bottom of the grave is significantly above the water table. Authorities can release the bodies after six hours to the families, and they can hold Pansakoola or other rites of one’s religion via ZOOM. The government can provide mobile ZOOM capability to families and religious institutions unequipped with the needed electronics.

Even in China, although the official policy is to insist on “cremation”, “burial centers” controlled by Party officials have been set up. These are in Muslim areas and burials are “officially managed” for the family.

If the “scientific committees” disagree, it is because they have written reports without doing simple experiments. An accredited bio-safe lab can easily determine the half life of the virus in moist soil at 33 Celsius, and the experiment will show that 99% of the virus is dead in about three hours.

 

CHANDRE DHARMAWARDANA

[The writer was a Professor of Chemistry at the Vidyodaya University (today’s SJP University) in the mid 1970s, and currently works for the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Montreal].

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

How to avoid water shortages and power cuts

Published

on

A section of the Southern Expressway affected by floods (file photo)

 

It is a strange thing in this country with so many rivers flowing into the sea right round the island, as soon as the rains cease there is a drought and there are thousands affected with no possibility of getting anything out of what they have cultivated, be it rice or vegetables. And while the rains last there are a number of places that get inundated with roads impassable and people displaced from their abodes.

If one recalls the history of this blessed isle it was King Parakramabahu the Great who said that not a drop of water should be allowed to go into the sea without being made use of. That was the era when Sri Lanka exported rice to other neighbouring countries. How did they do this? They had neither sophisticated equipment nor machines that are available now. They also did not have the help of foreign qualified experts. But with whatever skills they had they were able to achieve what they wanted. All this was done by conserving the water from the seasonal rains the island had.

The weather patterns have changed and now we do not get rain as stated in our books on Geography. What we learnt from the books was that the south western monsoon will be from around May to end August/ beginning September. The North eastern monsoon brings rain from November to February. In between these two monsoons there will be convectional rain in the months of April and October. Does the rainy seasons occur as in the book now? Not at all. The weather patterns have changed completely. The farmers are not sure as to when the rains would come, unlike in the good old days.

The rains are unpredicatable. When it rains it pours for a short period. But in that short period there are floods and roads, paddy fields and houses get inundated. The rains cease and the flooding subsides. The authorities have forgotten what happened and they get back to their normal routine until the rains strike again with the same results.

Then there is a prolonged period of drought. Now the reverse happens. There is no water to cultivate and in some areas no water to drink. What has been cultivated has withered away. The farmers are in a quandary as they are unable to pay back the loans they have obtained to cultivate with the hope of repaying after the harvest.

When there is heavy rain for a long period the reservoirs and tanks swell up and then the sluice gates are open to let the excess water out. This water that is let out just gushes out and goes into the sea without being made use of at all. Why is it not possible for the irrigation authorities to have tanks at a lower level to collect the excess water and make use of this water too? There is such a large amount of water that is released like this which can be made use of for cultivation when there is no rain.

The large amount of water carried by the Kalu Ganga has been flowing into the sea from time immemorial without being used for anything other than for people to bathe and bathe their animals. This is a source where the water can be conserved and if possible diverted to the dry zone to assist the farmers in their cultivation.

Even in the city of Colombo when it rains heavily we have seen the same areas getting flooded. This has been the case for a long time. But so far nothing has been done and come the next rain we will experience the same problem. This is so in the areas in Galle, Ratnapura, etc.

It is time the relevant authorities looked into this and do the needful to conserve the large amount of water that flows into the ocean without being made use of. It may be possible to use this water not only for agriculture but also for generation of hydro power. If this can be done, this island will never have to face water cuts and power cuts.

 

HM Nissanka Warakaulle

Continue Reading

Opinion

C-19: Implications and Complications

Published

on

By I. P.C. MENDIS

 

Covid-19 understandably has doubtlessly put the world in a flat spin, and this isle of ours is no exception. Due to the new strain of the virus, all aspects, from precaution to treatment, are on trial and error basis. The effects of some recommended vaccines are being questioned. So far, there seems to be global acceptance of precautionary measures, such as wearing of masks, social distancing and congregation. It is regrettable, to say the least, that the Sri Lankan population, by and large, has still not realised the gravity of the problem, and seem to behave rather callously in adhering strictly to the guidelines, resulting in offenders being hauled up by the law enforcement authorities for prosecution in courts.

It is indeed well and good for them to strictly enforce the law in the circumstances of general laxity and the need to control the spread of the infection. However, such measures need to be taken after careful examination and study of their implications, and the effect they would have on other relevant policy decisions, already in place, so as to ensure that they do not work at cross-purposes. The decision to prosecute offenders as aforesaid, which entails fines and/or jail terms, is supposed to be based on some antiquated Ordinance, which doubtlessly has come to our rescue in the absence of recent legislation. However, having earned much experience in its working, with the first wave of the virus, the think – tanks behind it had ample time and opportunity to compile the inputs necessary to streamline it or frame new laws/regulations, as a matter of urgency. It is indeed a pity that it has not been done so far.The result is that we have to still hang on to an antiquated Ordinance, which in its implementation seems to be a contradiction in terms with certain other areas of governance. It is regrettable and in a sense a misfortune that some of these measures could be a source of embarrassment to respected high-ups, who are themselves learned in the law, to announce such decisions to the people.

Jail Terms: Obviously, the decision to give an offender a fine, jail term or both, lies with the courts. This is, in the context where there exists a serious debate over the overcrowding of prisons, the Presidential pardons being given by the thousands, as a measure of easing such congestion, the huge backlog of court cases lying unresolved, and the recent increase in the cadre of judicial officers to ensure their speedy disposal.

In addition, the pressure already borne by the Attorney-General’s department, the time and energy already expended by the police, the involvement of witnesses and other agencies — not to speak of the immense pressure on the purse of these minor offenders — and the government necessitating, inter alia, the involvement of the black-coated fraternity; who will generally not take kindly to any simplification, as evidenced by their past selfish conduct in opposing the SLFP measure to let the Public Trustee handle a given category of plaints, and the recent opposition to the proposal to appoint lawyers as Chief Inspectors of Police!

Suggested Relief Measures: It is a forgotten factor that in the days gone by, Cadets and Class II officers of the now defunct Civil Service, were gazetted as Police Magistrates to hear given categories of plaints. It would be extremely beneficial if the government gives serious thought immediately to gazette Divisional/Additional Divisional or other officers to handle such cases, with powers to impose a stipulated fine. We have the Conciliation Boards already charged with the responsibility of trying to settle disputes (without penal powers, however) and Traffic policemen imposing spot fines. So what can be the problem? Indictment can take place if the fine is not paid or the offender contests the plaint.

The only problem can be the selfish interests of a particular section, which has to be discounted in the larger interests of the people, who are already overburdened with monetary and other compelling issues! The proposal may be achievable with a simple amendment to existing legislation or under emergency regulation.

 

Over to you, Your Excellency, Mr. President!

Continue Reading

Opinion

‘Bad Boy Billionaires’ of Sri Lanka

Published

on

By UPALI COORAY

This headline quotation in part, is the title of a Netflix series “Bad Boy Billionaires”. This Netflix series brings out some of the epoch-making financial scams in India. The documentary film exposes the truth in an investigation in major corruption scandals, money laundering in India involving Vijay Mallaya (Kingfisher Airlines) Subrata Roy (Sahara India) Nirav Modi (Gitanjali group) Ramalinga Raju (Sathyamgani computers)

Among these scammers Subrata Roy has done something which has parallels in Sri Lanka.

India’s market regulator petitioned the Supreme Court to direct tycoon Subrata Roy to an immediate payment of 626 billion rupees ($8.4 billion) meant for poor investors.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India said the outstanding liability of the Sahara India Parivar group’s two companies and the conglomerate’s chief Roy stand at 626 billion rupees, including interest, according to court filings.

India’s Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that Sahara group of companies violated securities laws and illegally raised over $3.5 billion. The companies said monies were raised in cash from millions of poorest of the poor of Indians who could not avail banking facilities. SEBI could not trace the investors and when Sahara firms failed to pay up, the court sent Roy to jail.

Roy, who at different times owned an airline, Formula one team, cricket team, plush hotels in London and New York, and financial companies, stayed in jail for over two years and has been out on parole since 2016.

The Sahara story, almost a decade after the final judgment, is far from over. Roy has so far deposited over 150 billion rupees, SEBI said in the court filing, while the Sahara group said it had deposited 220 billion rupees.

Financial scams in our country have increased in recent times and not a day passes without news of customers being cheated by finance companies, etc. Let’s start with the oldest of Sri Lankan con- artistes Emil Savundra or Emil Savundranayagam, who was a Sri Lankan who settled down in Britain in 1960, a born cheat. The collapse of his Fire, Auto and Marine Insurance Company left about 400,000 motorists in the United Kingdom without cover.

As a post-war bootlegger, Savundra committed bribery and fraud on an international scale before settling down in the UK to sell low-cost insurance in the fast-growing automotive market. By defaulting on mandatory securities, he funded a lavish lifestyle and travelled in fashionable circles even with the famous Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. He was into power boat racing too.

This drew scrutiny by the press, which discovered major frauds. In a TV interview with David Frost, Savundra demonstrated contempt for his defrauded customers. The police had been investigating him, and he was soon arrested and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Released after six, Savundra died two years later as a drug addict.

Piyadasa Ratnayaka alias Danduvam Mudalali of Hungama, Southern province, had allegedly accepted deposits from over 20,000 investors in a pyramid scheme. He was on bail for the alleged financial scam. Mudalali was killed by an unknown armed gang in Pusallawatte, Kuruwita.

Hideki Finance and Investments, which went bust in 1987, had over 4,000 depositors. The Central Bank had to intervene and pay the depositors their dues in instalments.

The multi-million rupee ‘Sakvithi’ scam by Sakithi Ranasingha did not spare even the handicapped or the sick, as it plundered the wealth of thousands of unsuspecting customers who suddenly realised that all their savings had gone up in smoke. About 5,000 investors were defrauded to the tune of 900 million rupees. A Police inspector was also allegedly involved in the scam, which was exposed following a raid by the Central Bank on unregistered financial institutions.

Kingsley de Silva, an ex-naval rating suffering from a chronic kidney ailment, has been robbed of Rs. 1.2 million — money he had saved for a life-saving surgery. This money, the 65-year-old Mr. Silva said, included payment he received from the Navy on retirement and the rest from the part-sale of ancestral land in Maharagama. He did not know what to do or whom to turn to.

Dulanjan Atapattu, a retired government teacher was due to undergo heart surgery. He needed extra money for the operation and medication, and invested his savings in what he thought would be an income-generating scheme.

“I invested Rs. 2 million after selling my house. Initially, I got a monthly interest, and was impressed with the return. But I was soon to be proved wrong,”

With a self-esteem as philanthropists, embracing the word of God, the very name Deshamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala and Lady Dr. Sicille Kotelawala evoked respect, trust and above all a sense of security. That was why 9,054 people in this country, trusted the duo with millions of rupees, in some cases tens of millions of rupees in life savings. Maybe part of those millions belonging to some depositors was black money. Perhaps, some of them invested their money to evade paying tax to the government, or they were just plain greedy or a mixture of both. After all, why did they not invest the monies with financially stable banks?

Whatever the case, they were confident that their savings/loot would be safe in the hands of two human beings held in the highest esteem. There were leading businessmen, civil servants, Buddhist monks, Christian clergy and world-renowned Sri Lanka cricketers, who would never have resorted to money laundering, were also deceived.

When Golden Key collapsed like a pack of cards in December in the year 2008, and as the unsavoury details unraveled in staggered scenes of drama, horrified, dismayed depositors who had been earning as much as 30 and 32 percent on their investments at Golden Key, were forced to come to grips with the fact that soon their monies would be confined to mere numbers on a piece of paper. Soon to be identified as one of the biggest white-collar frauds.

Held in esteem by those who claimed to be his friends and say they trusted him wholeheartedly. Today, these same people spit his name out with vilification. Thousands of families robbed of a monthly interest amounting from thousands to millions of rupees, earned off their capital investment with Golden Key.

At least one depositor from this list, Lady Dr. Sicille Kotelawala will have no such qualms. Her investment in Golden Key was to the tune of Rs. 10.6 million only. A paltry sum by her standards. Even that most likely is what she skimmed off from the company itself. After all, according to court documents she was paid a staggering Rs. 3.5 million a month for being the Deputy Chairperson was just peanuts. She was rich enough not to have to worry about paying for groceries or medicines.

From lower middle-class families to upper, from the rich to the superrich there was no class distinction between the 9,054 people who entrusted their monies with Golden Key.

The strange thing is that most of the big depositors are businessmen who understand finance. They would have known that the unrealistically high interest rates paid by Golden Key could not be sustained. They would have also known that it was not registered with the Central Bank. But then again, the company had been in existence since 1978, and the collapse of the Ceylinco Empire had been predicted for more than a decade. You can run a pyramid scheme for so long, only if new depositors keep depositing money in.

After 10 years of agitation the depositors were paid by the Central Bank with funds from liquidated assets of the collapsed venture.

What is important to note is that most of these company founders were well-respected businessmen in Sri Lanka.

Justin Kotalawala the founder of Ceylinco insurance was a well-respected businessman in the country. He was related to one-time prime minister Sir John Kotalawala.

Sakvithi Ranasingha was a private tuition master highly respected by his students and their parents. He abused his reputation to deceive the unsuspecting depositors and lived a lavish life. In fact, he taught English to prisoners while in jai.

Late E.A.P Edirisinghe and his spouse Late Soma Edirisinghe – Desha Bandu Desha Shakthi and a Honorary Doctorate from Open University of Sri Lanka, an unparalleled feat of being awarded the “Lion of the year” on four occasions and many more, were entrepreneurs who would never have resorted to deception. They were pawn brokers, jewellers, film producers, cinema and TV channel owners and philanthropists. The ETI finance matter is sub judice and, therefore, will not be discussed any further.

Late Kattar Aloysius, the founder of Free Lanka Trading company, a well-known businessman in the country who was initially a major exporter of dried fish, but subsequently diversified into industrial products, granite, indenting agent for importing commodities to Sri Lanka, agents for alcoholic beverages such as cognac, Dewar’s whisky, etc. He was respected among the business circles here and abroad.

Now, the name of Aloysius is synonymous with the Treasury bond scams.

As you sow so shall you reap.

 

 

Continue Reading

Trending