M A I N   N E W S

Killer Drain III — Special Tribune Investigation
Toxins infect food chain
Doctors grapple with lead toxicity, DNA damage, cancer
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Clean Budda Nullah, orders CM

Taking cognizance of The Tribune expose on the indiscriminate discharge of domestic sewage and industrial effluents into Ludhiana’s Budda Nullah, the Punjab CM has issued the following directives:

l Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) to clean the stream on top priority.

l Finance Department to sanction funds required for the project.

l Appeal to industrialists to install effluent treatment plants and minimise the effect of pollutants.

l Department of Science, Technology and Environment to evolve a time-bound strategy and undertake this project as if it were a mission.

l Principal Secretary Technical Education P. Ram to coordinate with NGOs for the Budda Nullah clean-up project.

Ludhiana, August 29
Eesha Sharma had carried toxic lead in her bloodstream for years. But she had no idea the lethal heavy metal – found in generous quantities in the groundwater around Transport Nagar where she lives – was eroding her health till she landed in the ICU of Dayanand Medical College (DMC).

The symptoms included acute abdominal pain and nausea, pointing towards a gastrointestinal problem. But the findings shocked the investigators. Eesha’s blood contained a staggering 70 parts per million (ppm) of poisonous lead – a level much higher than permissible. She was immediately put on drugs – carcinogenic in this case. Though better now, she still suffers recurrent pain. But she doesn’t suffer alone.

Dr Ajit Sud of Gastroenterology Department at DMC says: “We are seeing an increasing number of patients with lead poisoning caused by the industrial pollution of groundwater. In extreme cases, lead can affect the nervous system and cause mental retardation. The situation is serious near Budda Nullah and industrial areas where electroplating and battery manufacturing units are contributing to the pollution load.”

Lead toxicity is just one of the challenges health experts face. The other is the threat of DNA damage and cancers posed by heavy metal (chromium, nickel, cadmium) pollution of water, soil and plants. Budda Nullah pours this polluted water into the Sutlej. The Sutlej further carries it to Harike from where it is sourced for potable and irrigation purposes. The food chain up to Harike is thus infected.

In 2005, a Guru Nanak Dev University study showed how villagers at Mahel, near Amritsar, suffered DNA damage due to exposure to industrial pollutants. Now the Department of Community Medicine at PGI is studying the health of villagers inhabiting the banks of five major drains of Punjab – Budda Nullah in Ludhiana, East Bein and Kala Singha in Jalandhar, Hudiara and Thung Dhab in Amritsar.

PGI’s Dr J.S. Thakur, says: “We are assessing the chemical composition of effluents in these drains, their water quality and health problems they pose. We are also studying the association of pollutants with genetic disorders, congenital diseases, gastroenteritis and heart problems.”

Back in Ludhiana where Budda Nullah flows like an open sewer, the incidence of respiratory disorders, TB, skin infections and Hepatitis (jaundice and cholera) is very high. Chief Medical Officer, Ludhiana, Dr S.P. Sharma, and Dr Sud both admit: “There is no time of the year when we don’t see patients of Hepatitis. Faecal contamination and infections caused by the disposal of untreated organic waste into Budda Nullah have led to an increase in the cases of diarrhoea and hepatitis. Bacterial infections are also rampant.” City’s domestic sewage has E-Coli and Shigella bacteria, which cause diarrhoea and dysentery.

The problem is exacerbated by blocked sewerage at various places. At Gopal Nagar (Haibowal), sewerage is lying blocked for the past two months. Pigs are thriving, exposing residents to parasitic infections like neurocycticerosis, which can affect the brain, cause seizures and epileptic attacks. Tapeworm disease is also very common.

In Haibowal particularly, faecal contamination is very high. Right now, Chhoti Haibowal has no permanent sewage collection centre where the locality’s waste can be stored before being dumped at the official sites at Jainpur and Tajpur Road. The system of filth collection being poor, waste often lies scattered on roads or dumped along Nullah’s bank, endangering public health.

The main problem is MC’s old and taxed sewerage pipes, which need urgent replacement. Also, drinking water-supply pipes and sewerage pipes run dangerously close to each other. Future erosion can pose health threats when drinking water mixes up with untreated sewage. Dr Sud admits: “The problem must be rectified now.”

But right now lead toxicity is his top concern. The city has 15 battery-manufacturing units; 10 in approved zones. The problem is grave in Transport Nagar along the GT Road, where there are many such units. Dr Pawan Sharma, an industrial consultant and environment expert explains: “During rains, lead dissolves in rainwater and seeps into groundwater through soil. The drinking water is so hard that many residents suffer from calcification, which causes kidney stones. At times, lead oxides get so heavily suspended in the air around Transport Nagar that we can’t even breathe.”

The Punjab Pollution Control Board is aware of the problem. Quaintly, the problem remains.

(To be concluded)





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |