Category Archives: Water Pollution

Groundwater contamination cases rising in State

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.



Arsenic content in drinking water high

In the backdrop of high rate of prevalence of cancer cases in the State, arsenic contamination of its drinking water is causing a serious concern among the health and drinking water experts here. Arsenic is a dreaded cancer-causing toxic element.
It needs mention here that the groundwater in 19 of the 27 districts of the State are found to be contaminated by arsenic. Significantly, samples only of the Government groundwater sources in 76 of the total 219 development blocks of the State have been tested to determine their arsenic contamination.

If the private groundwater sources in all the development blocks, along with the Government groundwater sources in the rest of the development blocks, are covered by a screening drive to determine the exact size of arsenic contamination of the State’s groundwater, the picture may become more grim, said noted drinking water expert AB Paul.

Paul, a former chief engineer of the State’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), who first detected fluoride and arsenic contamination of the State’s groundwater, respectively about 15 years and about eleven years back, is working for mitigation of the menace created by both fluoride and arsenic contamination of drinking water.

Significantly, Kamrup (Metro) District has recorded the highest number of female hypo-pharyngeal cancer cases in the world. The district has also recorded the second highest number of cases of male tongue cancer in the country as well as in the world.

It has recorded the third highest number of female esophageal cancer cases in the world and fourth highest number of cases of male esophageal cancer cases in the world, said Dr Arundhati Deka, Deputy Director of the State Health Department, quoting a survey report of the B Barooah Cancer Institute, submitted to the Health Department in June this year.

Paul said that going by the statistics, the arsenic-related problem in Assam is more serious compared to West Bengal. In West Bengal, out of the 19 districts, eight are affected by the problem, while in Assam, 19 of the 27 districts are affected by the problem.

In the State, of the total 56, 180 groundwater samples tested in a three-tier system during the past few years, under a joint plan of action by the State PHED, UNICEF and the IIT Guwahati, 7.95 per cent of the samples were found to be containing over 50 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic and 29.75 per cent were found to be containing over 10 ppb arsenic. The 50 ppb is the Government of India norm, while 10 ppb is the World Health Organisation (WHO) norm for determining safe drinking water in the case of arsenic, Paul said.

In the State, he said 1970 villages have their groundwater contaminated by the presence of over 50 ppb arsenic. The population at risk is 7, 22, 603. The number of schools in the State with their water sources affected by arsenic contamination is 794.

But the matter of concern here is that there is no serious effort at any level whatsoever to undertake serious research works to mitigate this menace in the State, unlike in Bangladesh and West Bengal, Paul said.

Problem of Arsenic

Arsenic in Water: Causes & Effects

The occurrence of arsenic in natural ground water is usually due to mineral arsenopyrite, which is associated with sedimentary rocks and weathered volcanic rocks. Fossil fuel, mineral deposits, mining wastes and geothermal areas are other sources through which arsenic can occur in ground water. Also, arsenic and its compounds are found in wastes from various industries like glassware, ceramic, dye, petroleum and refining metallurgical, insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers and inorganic chemicals which leaches into ground water.

A prolonged consumption of arsenic contaminated water having concentration of above 0.05 mg / l lead to arsenicosis. The manifestation of arsenicosis in human body depends on (i) concentration of arsenic, (ii) consumption of water and (iii) nutritional status and depending on these conditions it takes 6 months to 8 years to exhibit sign of arsenicosis.


Arsenic in Assam Action Initiated on Arsenic Mitigation and Future Plan
Phase wise manifestation of arsenicosis:

First phase:  sporadic patches (black & white in colour) in chest and back called melanocis develops which is followed by hardening of palm and toes and development of corn like black spot called keratosis.

Second phase:  the above symptoms are followed by severe cough, asthmatic problems, general weakness as well as anemia.

Third phase: the above complications ultimately leads to cancer of liver, lungs etc.


Arsenic in Assam

Recently arsenic has been detected in ground water of one block of Dhemaji district and three blocks of Karimganj district. Water samples of Hand Pump from Majuli riverine island of Jorhat district and Mankachar area of Dhubri district are also sent to UNICEF, Kolkata for getting the samples tested through Atomic Absorption Photo Spectrometer, as such instrument is not available in APHED laboratories. The detailed position of samples tested and corresponding result are shown below:


Name of District Name of Block Nos.of Sample tested / sent for testing Nos. of Sample exhibiting presence of Arsenic more than permissible limit of 0.05 mg/l Water Sample Testing Agency
Dhemaji Sissiborgaon 20 3 Bengal Engineering College, Sivpur (WB) on behalf of UNICEF
10 9 Forensic Science Laboratory, Assam Guwahati – 19
Total 30 12
Karimganj South Karimganj 68 27 Bengal Engineering College, Sivpur (WB) on behalf of UNICEF
South Karimganj 3 2 School of Environmental Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
North Karimganj 53 5 -Do-
Patherkandi 23 3 -Do-
Badarpur 3 Nil -Do-
Total 150 37
Jorhat Majuli Riverine Island 10 Result awaited Sent for testing to UNICEF, Kolkata
Dhubri Mankachar 15 Result awaited Sent for testing to UNICEF, Kolkata


Action Initiated on Arsenic Mitigation and Future Plan
  1. Hand Pumps delivering water having arsenic more than the permissible limit are painted “RED” with caution display nearby not to use arsenic affected water from the Hand Pumps for drinking and cooking purposes. Hand Pumps with safe water in the locality are painted “BLUE” so that the villagers could use safe water for drinking and cooking purposes.
  1. Proposal for up-gradation of water testing District Level Laboratories (DLL) of APHED in Jorhat, Nagaon, Karimganj and Kamrup districts is submitted to UNICEF, Kokata with a request to extend necessary support so that these DLLs could perform accurate fluoride and arsenic detection.
  1. Proposal for testing around 700 water samples from all the blocks of Dhemaji district is submitted to UNICEF, Kolkata.
  1. Proposal for testing around 1000 samples from entire district of Karimganj and intensively from Bangladesh border areas is submitted to UNICEF, Kolkata.
  1. Since arsenic carried along with river water from the upper stage is getting deposited in sediments in plains around river banks, as is happening in case of Bangladesh and West Bengal, it has been decided to get water samples tested from vulnerable zones on both the banks of river Barahmaputra and Barak and accordingly a proposal has been framed. Quality assessment will be over within six months and then depending on the situation following activities will be carried out: