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Cancer spreading in Bihar due to arsenic in ground water: Experts

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Photo: http://www.ugandacancersociety.org

Patna: The high level of arsenic in the ground water is causing and spreading cancer on either side of the Ganga in Bihar, according to experts.

The most affected are the poorest of the poor. A K Ghosh, a Patna-based arsenic expert, said a large number of cases had been reported from the districts along the river.

“It’s a matter of serious concern,” Ghosh, professor at the department of environment and water management at AN college, Patna, told IANS. He has conducted several arsenic field surveys in the last ten years.

According to a 2014 study by Ghosh, 18 of the 38 districts of Bihar were affected by ground water arsenic. The worst affected districts were Bhojpur, Buxar, Vaishali, Bhagalpur and Samastipur.

Scientists at the Patna-based Mahavir Cancer Sansthan (MCS) said in their latest research study that arsenic had been found in tissues of patients suffering from cancer. The source of the offending chemical element was drinking water, they stated.

The scientists concluded that the probability of two types of cancer (skin and gall bladder) was due to ingestion of drinking water in which arsenic presence was more than 300 parts per billion (ppb).

Their research also said arsenic increases the possibility of DNA damage. The MCS study was based on 200 cancer patients from Bhojpur, Vaishali and Buxar.

The study, headed by Dr Arun Kumar observed that arsenic might not be the single factor in causing cancer, but its effect gets multiplied when combined with other carcinogens.

According to an official report by the state health department, around 75,000 new cancer cases are detected annually in Bihar.

Of these, the highest number of cases is reported from districts affected by arsenic.

Ghosh said that several patients often moved out of Bihar for treatment, making it difficult to identify the exact number of cases in the state.

A cancer specialist, Dr A J K Singh said arsenic poisoning was one of the main factors for cancer of prostate, liver, and gall bladder in the state, adding that the poorest were hit hard by it.

Singh said the government should join hands with different organizations to get rid of arsenic from drinking water.

Water samples collected at random from 44,000 tubewells by officials in affected districts found that arsenic concentration was above the World Health Organisation’s permissible limit of 10 ppb in most of them. The Indian government’s guidelines peg the permissible limit at 50 ppb.

The highest level of concentration was found in Bhojpur at 1,861 ppb, followed by Buxar at 1,230 ppb and Bhagalpur at 915 ppb. Even Patna district had a very high incidence of 760 ppb.

Last year, a state government report, based on a survey of water samples collected from 19,961 tubewells in 398 villages, found that arsenic concentration was above 10 ppb in 310 villages and above 50 ppb in 235 villages.

Bihar’s Minister for Public Health Department Krishnanandan Prasad Verma told the state Assembly last week that 13 districts in the Gangetic plain had more arsenic content than the permissible limit of 50 ppb.

Experts say a large number of hand pumps in Bihar need to be painted red – warning against use – and sealed.

Arsenic was also finding its way into agricultural products like rice, tomato, maize, wheat and spinach. Often, over-extraction of water through hand pumps worsened the situation by raising the concentration levels.

The source of arsenic, according to experts, was stationed from the Himalayas which gets deposited downstream through the Ganga. In its natural form of arsenopyrite (iron arsenic sulfide), it is insoluble in water.

Arsenic, an odorless and tasteless semi-metal element, occurs naturally in the environment and is sometimes deposited as a by-product of agriculture processing and industrial use. (IANS)

Next Story

A Clean Ganga Not Possible Without Continuous Flow: Green

Bandyopadhayay stressed that the future of the Ganga, as well as that of its tributaries, depends on how quickly the transformation is made

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The Holy River Ganga in Haridwar, Source: Pixabay

By Bappaditya Chatterjee

The Centre’s efforts to rejuvenate the Hindu holy river have failed to impress environmentalists, who feel a clean Ganga will remain a distant dream due to the Modi government’s failure to ensure the continuous flow of the river.

“Nothing has been done for ensuring a continuous flow of the river and also for its rejuvenation by the Narendra Modi government. Continuity is of supreme importance as the holy river has been admitted in the Intensive Care Unit for many years. But the Centre is trying to treat its teeth,” said Magsaysay awardee and a member of the erstwhile National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), Rajendra Singh.

Spending crores of rupees for beautification of ghats has been “wastage of the public exchequer” because “without ensuring a continuous flow, clean Ganga will continue to remain a distant dream”, said Rajendra Singh, who goes by the sobriquet “Waterman of India”.

 

Ganga, travel
River Ganga is one of the holiest rivers in India. Pixabay

Soon after assuming office, the Modi government rolled out its flagship “Namami Gange” mission at an estimated budget Rs 20,000 crore to clean and protect the Ganga.

 

Under Namami Gange, 254 projects worth Rs 24,672 crore have been sanctioned for various activities such as construction of sewage infrastructure, ghats, development of crematoria, river front development, river surface cleaning, institutional development, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, rural sanitation and public participation.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, 131 projects out of 254 were sanctioned for creating 3,076 MLD (million litre per day) new sewage treatment plants (STPs), rehabilitating 887 MLD of existing STPs and laying 4,942 km of sewer lines for battling pollution in the Ganga and Yamuna rivers.

 

River Ganga is one of the holiest, yet the most polluted river.
River Ganga is also the most polluted river.

Till November-end of the 2018-19 fiscal, the National Mission for Clean Ganga released Rs 1,532.59 crore to the states and the Central Public Sector Undertakings for implementing the programme and meeting establishment expenditure.

Rajendra Singh said: “Ganga wants freedom today. There is no need for any barrage or dam. We want building of dams and any constructions on the river be stopped.”

 

Echoing Singh, another member of the now dissolved NGRBA, K.J. Nath, said the flow of the river had been obstructed at many locations and its own space (flood plains) encroached upon at multiple places in the name of riverfront development.

However, Jayanta Bandyopadhayay, a former Professor of IIM-Calcutta and presently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, said the success or otherwise of initiatives and projects of any government in cleaning the Ganga cannot be judged in a five-year time frame.

Also Read: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Inaugurates Bogibeel Bridge Over Brahmaputra River

Managing a river like the Ganga, the lifeline of a very large number of people, is socio-technically a very complex issue and should be addressed with deep interdisciplinary knowledge, he added.

Bandyopadhayay stressed that the future of the Ganga, as well as that of its tributaries, depends on how quickly the transformation is made from the one dimensional perspective of rivers by engineers, political leaders, policymakers and others to a multidimensional and interdisciplinary one. (IANS)