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Nature Uranium, Metals Make Punjab Toxic Hot-spot


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Uranium, metals make Punjab toxic hotspot
by Balwant Garg


Chemical, Radiation & Biological Toxicity Rampant, Says Study

Bathinda: After discovery of high levels of uranium in hair samples of a large number of mentally retarded children in Punjab’s Malwa region last year, another study suggests Punjab has become a hotspot of environmental toxicity of multiple types.

While a top German laboratory revealed that hair samples of 80% of 149 neurologically-disabled children, mainly from Malwa region, had high levels of uranium, a study by Greenpeace suggested that all the three major types of toxicity — chemical, radiation and biological — are rampant in Punjab.

The adverse health effects on plants, animals and humans are visible and some of the studies have proved this. ‘‘It’s clear that Punjab is in a deep ecological crisis with its ramifications on socio-economic and cultural aspects of its population,’’ said Dr Reyes Tirado, a scientist from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who conducted the study in 50 villages in Muktsar, Bathinda and Ludhiana districts last year under a Greenpeace Research Laboratories investigation.

Victims of toxicity in Malwa. Punjab is in an ecological crisis, says Dr Tirado, who conducted the study in 50 villages

The study found the effects of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in groundwater in agriculture-intensive areas in three districts of Punjab. It showed that 20% of all sampled wells have nitrate levels above the safety limit of 50mg of nitrate per litre, established by WHO.

‘‘Nitrate pollution is clearly linked with the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. The higher the application of nitrogen (urea) in fields, the higher the nitrate pollution found in drinking water from nearby well,’’ said Reyes.

Among villages with high levels of nitrate pollution in drinking water is Doda, a village of Gidderbaha, the constituency of Punjab’s finance minister Manpreet Badal. ‘Anti-pollution laws only on paper in Punjab’

Bathinda: The fertile state of Punjab now battles grave chemical toxicity. Gidderbaha, the constituency of finance minister Manpreet Badal, is known for high prevalence of cancer cases. Two water samples in Doda found the nitrate levels at 94.3 mg/l and 72.8 mg/l, much above the WHO safety limit of 50 mg/l.

In Muktsar, the home district of Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, a state health department survey revealed that 1,074 people died of cancer between 2001 and November 2009 and 668 others are on their deathbed.

In Lambi, the home constituency of Badal, 211 residents lost their lives and 164 got afflicted with cancer in the last eight years, revealed health department survey report.

On Sunday, Germany’s Microtrace Mineral Lab had revealed high levels of uranium in hair samples of mentally-retarded children in Malwa region.

‘‘The hair results are surprising. We expected an {censored}nic exposure. Instead, over 80% of adult and children, many of which are suffering from cerebral palsy and mental retardation, showed pathological levels for uranium,’’ said Dr Carin Smit, a South African toxicologist who had sent the samples to the German laboratory in March 2009.

With no apparent source of uranium in Punjab, Carin added, ‘‘We were not testing for radioactive element but heavy metal toxicity, which results in illhealth and premature death.’’

Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, a known eco-activist whose relentless efforts led to resuscitation of many rivers in Majha area of Punjab, said the Punjab government is drafting anti-pollution laws only on paper and not implementing these against those causing serious type of water and air pollution.

He said harmful chemicals, including cyanide, was flowing from factories from Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Phagwara into drinking water sources, particularly of the Malwa region and the adjoining Rajasthan, as a result of which disease like cancer was prevalent in these areas. Everyday, 1,144 million litres of polluted water was being discharged into the Sutlej by various drains flowing through these industrial areas.

‘‘Punjab has long been a hotspot of chemical toxicity. But now, with studies indicating high levels of uranium in hair samples, the situation is indeed alarming,’’ says Umendra Dutt, executive director, Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), which works in the field of eco-friendly farming.

A report filed by V D Puranik, head of the environmental assessment division, Bhaba Atomic Research Center, about a year ago, had revealed the uranium content in water sample in the Malwa in the range of 2.2-244.2 micro grams per litre while WHOs safe limit is 15 microgram per litre.

‘‘Three samples exceeded the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) limit for uranium in drinking water of 60 micrograms per litre,’’ said Pritpal Singh, incharge of Baba Farid Center for Special Children in Faridkot