Tuesday November 21, 2017

Medak in Telangana: Lakes and Rivers now polluted with Antibiotics

The findings of various scientists regarding the pollution levels is being disputed by government findings and industry representatives

Dumping of untreated effluents has made the water near Medak unfit for everyday useage. Image Courtsey:VOA
  • Medak- a district of about 2.5 million has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap drugs
  • The scientists have been publishing research on pollution in the area for nearly a decade
  • The pharma companies are denying the dumping of effluents in local water bodies and saying they are following every regulation

Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, even the poorest villagers here in India’s baking south point to the barren banks and frothy water and say they avoid going anywhere near it.


A short drive from the bustling tech hub of Hyderabad, Medak is the heart of India’s antibiotics manufacturing business: a district of about 2.5 million that has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap drugs to most markets, including the United States.

But community activists, researchers and some drug company employees say the presence of more than 300 drug firms, combined with lax oversight and inadequate water treatment, has left lakes and rivers laced with antibiotics, making this a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance.”Resistant bacteria are breeding here and will affect the whole world,” said Kishan Rao, a doctor and activist who has been working in Patancheru, a Medak industrial zone where many drug manufacturers have bases, for more than two decades.

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Drugmakers in Medak, including large Indian firms Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., Aurobindo Pharma Ltd. and Hetero Drugs Ltd., and U.S. giant Mylan Inc., say they comply with local environmental rules and do not discharge effluent into waterways.

National and local government are divided on the scale of the problem.

While the Central Pollution Control Board (PCB) in New Delhi categorizes Medak’s Patancheru area as “critically polluted,” the state PCB says its own monitoring shows the situation has improved.

The rise of drug-resistant “superbugs” is a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to health officials.

Thirteen leading drugmakers promised last week to clean up pollution from factories making antibiotics as part of a drive to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, while United Nations member countries pledged for the first time to take steps to tackle the threat.

Major earner

Patancheru is one of the main pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs in Telangana state, where the sector accounts for around 30 percent of GDP, according to commerce ministry data. Drug exports from state capital Hyderabad are worth around $14 billion annually.

Local doctor Rao pointed to studies by scientists from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg that have found very high levels of pharmaceutical pollution in and around Kazhipally lake, along with the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes.The scientists have been publishing research on pollution in the area for nearly a decade.

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Their first study, in 2007, said antibiotic concentrations in effluent from a treatment plant used by drug factories were higher than would be expected in the blood of patients undergoing a course of treatment. That effluent was discharged into local lakes and rivers, they said.

“The polluted lakes harbored considerably higher proportions of ciprofloxacin-resistant and sulfamethoxazole-resistant bacteria than did other Indian and Swedish lakes included for comparison,” said their latest report, in 2015, referring to the generic names of two widely used antibiotics.

Those findings are disputed by local government officials and industry representatives.The Hyderabad-based Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association of India (BDMAI) said the state pollution control board had found no antibiotics in its own study of water in Kazhipally lake. The state PCB did not provide a copy of this report, despite several requests from Reuters.

“I have not seen any credible report that says that the drugs are no longer there,” Joakim Larsson, a professor of environmental pharmacology at the University of Gothenburg who led the first Swedish study and took part in the others, told Reuters by email. “There might very well have been improvements, but without data, I do not know.”

Water treatment

Local activists and researchers say the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) built in Medak in the 1990s was ill-equipped to handle large volumes of pharmaceutical waste.

After protests and court cases brought by local villagers a 20-km (12-mile) pipeline was built to take effluent to another plant near Hyderabad. But activists say that merely diverted the problem — waste sent there, they say, mixes with domestic sewage before the treated effluent is discharged into the Musi river.

A study published this year by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, found very high levels of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the Musi, a tributary of the Krishna, one of India’s longest rivers.

Local government officials responsible for the plants did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Nearly a dozen current and former officials from companies producing medicines in Patancheru told Reuters that factory staff from various firms often illegally dump untreated chemical effluent into boreholes inside plants, or even directly into local water bodies at night.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity, and Reuters was unable to independently verify those allegations.Major manufacturers in the area, including Dr. Reddy’s and Mylan, said they operated so-called zero liquid discharge (ZLD) technology and processed waste onsite.

“Mylan is not dumping any effluent into the environment, borewells or the CETP,” said spokeswoman Nina Devlin.

Dr. Reddy’s said it recycled water onsite and complied with all environmental regulations.

The same industry officials who spoke to Reuters said the pollution control board rarely checked waste-treatment practices at factories, adding that penalties for breaches were meager.The Telangana state government did not respond to requests for comment.

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“We are aware some companies are releasing more than the allowed effluent, but they are profit-making companies,” said state PCB spokesman N. Raveendher. “We do try and take action against the offenders, but we cannot kill the industry also.”

Many smaller companies also lacked the funds to install expensive machinery for treating waste, he added.

Court battles

A series of local court cases have been filed stretching back two decades, accusing drug companies of pollution and local authorities of poor checks.

In some cases, companies have been ordered to pay annual compensation to villagers, but many are still grinding through India’s tortuous legal system.

Wahab Ahmed, 50, owns five acres of land near the shores of Kazhipally lake, where he grew rice until a decade ago. He says the worsening industrial pollution from several nearby pharmaceutical factories left his land barren.

“We have protested, sued, and done all sorts of things over the years … that’s how some of us are now getting around 1,700 rupees [roughly $20] a year from the companies,” he said. “But what can you do with that small sum today?”More than 200 companies were named as respondents in the case he was referring to, filed by a non-profit organization on behalf of villagers.

While pollution of farmland is a serious problem for villagers who depend on it for their livelihood, the potential incubation of “superbugs” in Medak’s waterways has wider implications.

The issue is particularly worrisome in India, where many waterways also contain harmful bacteria from human sewage. The more such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chances they will mutate and render such drugs ineffective against them.

The risk is that resistant bacteria would then infect people and be spread by travel.So far, most of the focus worldwide on antimicrobial resistance has been on over-use of drugs in human medicine and farming.

“Pollution from antibiotic factories is a third big factor in causing antimicrobial resistance,” the chairman of one of the world’s largest drugmakers told Reuters. “But it is largely overlooked.” (VOA)


Next Story

Swiss Researchers’ Envirobot Slithers through Waterways to Detect Pollution and Toxins

Envirobot appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs

Envirobot helps in detecting water pollution. Pixabay
  • Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, appears as a water snake
  • Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies looking for pollution and toxins
  • Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around

Switzerland, August 6, 2017: As per the Pacific Institute, more than 2 million tons of a wide range of waste is pumped into the world’s waters each day. Researchers have become great at recognizing it, however not very great at finding the source of pollution. However, Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, provides a solution.

It appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs. They are taking it on a test drive around bodies of water in search of toxins and other substances which can harm aquatic animals in order to take control of water pollution.

ALSO READ: Human hair holds the key to solving water pollution

 The segments of Envirobot are identical so that the joint can oscillate in water. The head coordinates the motion of different segments in order to create a serpentine pattern which propels the whole robot. Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies on its own looking for pollution and toxins.
It can also send data to computers in real time as it swims. Its tiny chambers get filled with water as the robot swims through water. Envirobot is more efficient and accurate as it can collect water from multiple spots in a lake or river. It will be used as a measure to detect metals as they can harm people and aquatic life.

Instead of having a measurement station somewhere or going out to take a sample and bringing it back to the lab, the robot will actually slither in water bodies and measure a number of water quality parameters in real time. Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around.

Each segment of the Envirobot is unique so as to enable it to perform all kinds of water tests at the same time. For instance one segment measures very general quality parameters like temperature, conductivity, pH, oxygen level, so as to say whether water quality is good or not. Other segments carry bacteria, fish cells and even tiny water fleas that can react to toxins and insecticides in the water body.

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to create a full-time autonomous pollution sniffing robot and prevention of water pollution. What they are yet to achieve is to enable the Envirobot to by itself locate the source of the pollution. This will help to measure and decide where to go next which is a very challenging project. Given the amount of waste that is being dumped or pumped into the world’s waterways, it is a very worthy goal.

– prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025

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The Popular Recycled Wastewater Treatment Plants Get a Go Signal in India

From toilet to tap, the future of drinking water is here. After Singapore and Orange County USA, India to adopt recycled wastewater treatment system

Waste water treatment
Wastewater Treatment Plant. Pixabay
  • Delhi to get India’s first ever recycle wastewater treatment plant, after it became significantly popular in Singapore and Orange County
  • Sujala Dhara plant set up by Absolute Water, in collaboration with Delhi Jal Board and SANA
  • Non-potable use of the treatable water to be promoted extensively by Delhi Government

New Delhi, August 3, 2017: The capital has been suffering a water crisis for a while now, it was only a while back that a report warned the residents that 70 percent of the water in the capital was polluted and unfit to drink. After the spike in the industrial pollutants in the Yamuna river forced the Delhi Jal Board to take action by cutting 50 percent of water supply from two major water plants in Delhi.

After the reports were verified, it was evident that most of the water that the locals were consuming was diluted wastewater. There have been many short term preventive measures already been taken but in the long run, people are still unwilling to consume the recycled wastewater, even though half of the consumption currently is polluted by industrial and chemical waste.


The founder of Third World Center for Water Management said in an interview that, in Singapore, over 50 lakh residents have accepted it as a solution. Dependent on Malaysia for up to 50 percent of its water, Singapore decided that it was better to be self-reliant. With this ‘NEWater treatment plants’, it has not only managed that but also become a hub for advanced water research. A similar effort is also being done on an extensive scale in Orange County Water District in the US.

Delhi Jal Board approves a recyclable water treatment plant for potable and non-potable use Click To Tweet

Rahul Jha of Absolute Water, the water wing of Chemical System Technologies says that “Astronauts do it abroad stations”, Absolute Water develops technology which renders wastewater into potable water. In collaboration with Delhi Jal Board and Social Awareness, Newer Alternatives (SANA) they have established a plant called Sujala Dhara, at the Keshopur Sewage Treatment Plant in July 2015. At a cost of Rs 55 lakh, this plant can produce over 4000 liters of clean water every hour. The plant will be monitored by Delhi Jal Board, while agencies like Central Pollution Control Board have already given it a go.

The wastewater purification process not only reduces the waste discharged into the river bodies but also amounts to 15 percent of raw water remaining after purification, which is rich in nutrients like potassium and nitrogen and can be used as a liquid fertilizer. Even though the people are not yet accepting of this method of purification in India, and the practice won’t be as widely popular as it is in Singapore but the recycled water can be used for domestic needs.

Recycled Wastewater
Future Drinking Water

Work is initiated to supply the plant water to Keshopur Bus Depot for washing vehicles. The water will also be provided to the residence of Delhi Jal Board officials who live close to it, and where work on the dual piping system is proposed. So, two completely separate systems will be used to supply potable and recycled water to the users.

Also Read: These 7 Ayurvedic Herbal Water have Healing Powers

While there isn’t much heat on the aggressive consumption of recycled wastewater for drinking, but the Delhi’s Master Plan 2021 is already underway to promote extensive use of treated water for non-potable purposes.

Prepared by Nivedita Motwani. Twitter @Mind_Makeup

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India Among 5 Countries Cultivating Raw Wastewater For Irrigation

According to study, farmers' use of wastewater is most prevalent in regions where there are significant wastewater generation and water pollution

Influent raw wastewater in glass jar. Wikimedia
  • The global use of untreated wastewater from cities to irrigate crops downstream is 50 per cent more widespread than previously thought
  • The study relies on advanced modelling methods to provide a comprehensive estimate of the global extent to which farmers use urban wastewater on irrigated cropland
  • Results showed that 65 percent of all irrigated areas are within 40 km downstream of urban centres and are affected by wastewater flows to a large degree

Colombo, July 06, 2017: India and four other countries – China, Pakistan, Mexico and Iran — account for the most cropland in the world irrigated by dirty wastewater, putting millions of lives at serious health risks, new research have found.

The global use of untreated wastewater from cities to irrigate crops downstream is 50 per cent more widespread than previously thought, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study relies on advanced modelling methods to provide a comprehensive estimate of the global extent to which farmers use urban wastewater on irrigated cropland.

Also Read: Exclusive: Angry Farmers and Distressed Leaders

Researchers analysed data with geographic information systems (GIS).

According to the study, farmers’ use of wastewater is most prevalent in regions where there are significant wastewater generation and water pollution.

In these circumstances, and where safer water is in short supply, wastewater offers a consistent and reliable means of irrigating fields, including high-value crops, such as vegetables, which often require more water than staple foods.

Where raw wastewater is available, farmers may tend to prefer it because of its high concentrations of nutrients, which can lessen the need to apply purchased fertilisers.

In most cases, however, farmers’ use of this water is motivated by basic needs. They simply do not have alternatives, the study showed.

“The de facto reuse of urban wastewater is understandable, given the combination of increasing water pollution and declining freshwater availability, as seen in many developing countries,” said the lead author of the study Anne Thebo from the University of California, Berkeley in the US.

“As long as investment in wastewater treatment lags far behind population growth, large numbers of consumers eating raw produce will face heightened threats to food safety,” Thebo said.

Results showed that 65 percent of all irrigated areas are within 40 km downstream of urban centres and are affected by wastewater flows to a large degree.

Of the total area of 35.9 million hectares, 29.3 million hectares are in countries with very limited wastewater treatment, exposing 885 million urban consumers as well as farmers and food vendors to serious health risks.

Five countries — China, India, Pakistan, Mexico and Iran — account for most of this cropland, the findings showed.

These new findings supersede a widely cited 2004 estimate, based on case studies in some 70 countries and expert opinion, which had put the cropland area irrigated with wastewater at a maximum of 20 million hectares.

“Gaining a better grasp of where, why and to what extent farmers use wastewater for irrigation is an important step toward addressing the problem,” said second author Pay Drechsel of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Battaramulla, Sri Lanka.

“We hope this new study will focus the attention of policymakers and sanitation experts on the need to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal 6, particularly target 3, which calls for halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing recycling and safe water reuse,” Drechsel added. (IANS)