Thousands of water sources in northeast contaminated

By Sujit Chakraborty, IANS

Agartala : Thousands of underground water sources in India’s northeast are unfit for consumption due to highly toxic contamination, a study has revealed.

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According to the North Eastern Regional Institute of Water and Land Management (NERIWALM), a staggering 32,077 water sources have been contaminated with naturally occurring inorganic materials like arsenic, iron and fluoride.

“An action plan has been prepared to tackle all water quality problems jointly by the northeastern states and the water resource ministry,” said S.C. Patra, the director of NERIWALM.

A study conducted by NERIWALM revealed that 28,181 water sources located in Assam have been contaminated with these inorganic materials, followed by 2,931 in Tripura, 566 in Arunachal Pradesh, 136 in Nagaland, 124 in Meghalaya, 76 in Sikkim, 37 in Manipur and 26 in Mizoram.

“The excess inorganic materials, especially arsenic, found in the underground water could pose serious health risks for people,” said Patra, an environmental scientist.

The NERIWALM report said arsenic levels in Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh were above 300 parts per billion (ppb). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), consumption of water contaminated with arsenic levels of over 50 ppb can cause skin lesions and even cancer.

“To tackle these environmental problems, the government has suggested reduction of the use of chemical fertilizers and controlling leaching of sewage pollution coupled with adoption of surface and rainwater harvesting techniques,” Patra said.

The NERIWALM report said people in the northeastern region use water from tubewells for drinking, cooking and agricultural purposes and this way arsenic enters the food chain.

“This could cause chronic arsenic toxicity in the course of time, resulting in arsenical skin lesions and dermatitis in the initial stages and cancer and death if patients are exposed to high concentration over prolonged periods,” said the findings.

According to another report, more than 15 million people face arsenic contamination in the five states bordering Bangladesh – West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, and Meghalaya.

Over 60 people have died and thousands have been affected in Bangladesh due to arsenic poisoning in three years, the report added.