Water in the Punjab suspected in genetic mutations - International Herald Tribune Water in the Punjab suspected in genetic mutations By Heather Timmons Published: December 3, 2007 E-Mail Article Listen to Article Printer-Friendly 3-Column Format Translate Share Article Text Size NEW DELHI: Toxic chemicals in the water in the Punjab, India's grain belt, could be causing genetic mutations in the population, a recent study suggests. Preliminary results from a two-year study commissioned by the Punjab Water Pollution Control Board found mutated DNA in blood samples of 65 percent of the people tested. The study also found high levels of arsenic and mercury in the tap water. Some villages in the landlocked state of Punjab, which is more than 90 percent devoted to agriculture, are experiencing high rates of cancer and other diseases. Scientists and government officials are investigating links between these incidences and chemicals used in farming and industry. The most recent study, conducted by the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, looked at the chemical composition of five drains, the open sewers that handle much of India's waste, the chemical pollution of the groundwater in the area and the health of people living near these drains. "Nonspecific" mutations were found in 65 percent of the people tested, the study found. Unsafe levels of arsenic and mercury were found in the groundwater. Exposure to pesticides and irrigation of fields with contaminated drain water are leading to neurological, genetic and reproductive problems, said J.S. Thakur, the chief researcher on the study. Today in Asia - Pacific Rudd acts to ratify Kyoto accord in Australia Sharif barred from election in Pakistan Danger rules lawless Highway 1 in Afghanistan Fertilizers and chemicals used in farming are leaching into the groundwater in the Punjab and building up in the drains that are used to carry sewage away from homes. Increasing population and irrigation of crops are causing groundwater levels to drop. At the same time, there are not sufficient facilities to deal with sewage. "Broadly the main source of pollution is because of untreated waste water," said Yogesh Goel, the chairman of the Punjab Water Pollution Control Board. There is just one sewage treatment plant operating in the Punjab, he said, though several more are planned.