Assam has been facing a grave water quality problem, which is threatening the future of a large section of its upcoming generations.
It has been found that 19 districts of the State have areas affected by arsenic and nine districts have high fluoride in many pockets, including greater Guwahati. On top of this, high level of toxic elements like lead in groundwater of Darrang and Dhemaji districts is found, cadmium is found in the groundwater of Dhemaji district, while high level of non-biodegradable toxic pesticides like DDT and hexachlorocylohexane (HCH) are found in the groundwater of Dibrugarh and Nagaon districts.
Besides, proximity to the uranium deposits in Meghalaya, hydrocarbon exploration activities since the 19th century, universal presence of high quantity of iron in groundwater have been complicating the situation, said water quality experts.
Cadmium affects the central nerve system, makes bones brittle, causes mental disorders and may lead to cancerous diseases by causing disorders in DNA. Intake of high amount of HCH is toxic for the human body, experts maintain.
In the late 1990s, the first batch of fluorosis patients was discovered in the State and this led to the discovery of high amount of fluoride in the groundwater of Karbi Anglong district. This was followed by the discovery of arsenic in 2003 in two districts of the State – Dhubri and Karimganj.
Fluoride and arsenic contamination of groundwater, which was thought to be free from bacteriological contamination, posed a serious health hazard, as, groundwater was mostly supplied by the Government to the people of the State’s rural areas since the early 1960s as safe drinking water.
It is feared that at least two million people of the State are at risk only because of fluoride and arsenic contamination of groundwater, said the experts.
In some places, one in every three persons is affected by non-curable fluorosis. And this is creating a deep social desolation begetting the burden of the State’s society. Children get affected more from these problems as arsenic, fluoride, lead are neurotoxins for them and now even some babies are born with fluorosis, the experts said.
Cases of contamination of groundwater in the State are swelling up everyday, making groundwater unsafe for consumption. According to the official data, the number of the State’s districts which have got their groundwater contaminated by fluoride and arsenic has shot up to 22 and 21 respectively from 19 and 20 respectively in 2014-’15.
According to the data available with this newspaper, in 2014-’15, the arsenic affected districts of the State included Baksa, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Cachar, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Jorhat, Kamrup, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Morigaon, Nagaon, Nalbari, Sivasagar and Sonitpur.
This year, Tinsukia has also been found to be affected by arsenic, raising the number of affected districts to 21, said the sources.
Till 2013-’14, nine districts – Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, Golaghat, Jorhat, Kamrup, Karbi Anglong, Karimganj and Nagaon – were found to be affected by fluoride.
But in 2014-’15, with the inclusion of Baksa, Cachar, Chirang, Darrang, Dibrugarh, Morigaon, Nalbari, Sivasagar, Sonitpur and Udalguri, the number of affected districts rose to 19.
In 2015-’16, with the inclusion of Bongaigaon, Lakhimpur and Tinsukia, the number of fluoride-affected districts have shot up to 22, sources said.
According to experts here, the trend of rise in the number of fluoride and arsenic affected districts should be studied, together with the impact of such contamination of groundwater, which is used by the people of many areas in these districts for the purpose of drinking as well as domestic use, on human and animal health.
Except in the two districts of Karbi Anglong and Nagaon, no comprehensive health impact studies of groundwater contamination in the rest of the districts has so far been known to have been conducted, said the experts. The origin of fluoride so far is known to be geogenic.
The State’s Department of Mining and Mineral may undertake such studies, involving also the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and the North Eastern Regional Institute of Water and Land Management (NERIWALM) in this regard, said the experts.