The TrickyScribe: Arsenic contamination in groundwater in Ganga- Brahmaputra fluvial plains and its disastrous consequences to human health is reported as one of the world’s biggest natural groundwater calamities to mankind. People in the affected areas including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, where arsenic contamination in groundwater has been reported well beyond the permissible 10 µg/L mark, have been doomed to drinking arsenic-contaminated hand-pump water.
A number of corrective and precautionary measures being conducted notwithstanding, the spread of arsenic groundwater contamination continued to grow; more new areas added to the list. It has far-reaching impacts.
Ever since groundwater arsenic contamination first surfaced in 1983, a number of restorative and precautionary measures coupled with action plans focusing mainly on detailed investigations to understand the physiochemical processes and mechanisms, alternate arrangements to supply arsenic free water to the affected populace and development of devices for arsenic removal and their effective use on ground have been initiated. The numbers, however, are not sizeable.
In a recent study conducted jointly by TERI School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS), New Delhi, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and Columbia University of New York concludes the Indus Basin region covering regions of Indian Punjab as well as Pakistan Punjab has serious levels of arsenic in groundwater, along with traces of fluoride and nitrate that leads to a major public-health concern leading to slowly poisoning the body, potentially causing skin lesions, damage to the nervous system, stomach ailments, diabetes, renal (kidney) toxicity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Further because of fluoride content in water, children are facing severe dental and skeletal fluorosis at an early age, and nitrate levels causing methemoglobinemia, gastric cancer, goiter, birth malformations, hypertension, and a drop in blood pressure. The study involved field testing of over 30,000 wells for arsenic across 400 villages and was funded by National Science Foundation, USA and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in both the countries separately.
ARSENIC JAGRAN YATRA
Issues facing the environment are manmade. It is due to the flawed government policies that the environment is degrading with a tremendous pace, asserted Convener, Ganga Jagao Abhiyan, Nilay Upadhyay, while flagging off 10-day Arsenic Jagran Yatra that kicked off from what is revered as Sage Gautam’s mythological ashram located in Bind Ganva in Bhojpur district of Bihar, located close to 108 km west of the state capital.
The Yatra will reach Buxar to culminate on April 28 at the mythological ashram of Maharishi Vishwamitra spreading awareness about Ganga and its pollution by toxins including arsenic & fluorides. Attaining authentic knowledge of nature is Moksha (salvation), said Upadhyay. The contamination is taking huge toll on human beings, animals and also the production of food grains, he continued.
Abundance of carcinogens in the pollutants exacerbates the situation; medical expenses overwhelming. Up to 40% of the population that once lived thronged the banks of the mighty Ganges, has relocated in search of better job prospects. Those who did not migrate are facing the risk of cancer. Alarmingly, most of the cancer patients undergoing treatment in Mumbai and Delhi hospitals come from the same region. Women are affected too. People are skeptical when it comes to marriage alliances in the affected belt. For this reason, girls are not getting married.