Uranium in food, water in Bathinda

Granite in Haryana a possible source

uranium has contaminated milk, wheat, pulses and water in Bathinda district in Punjab, a study by scientists of Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University has found. Of the 22 villages the study covered, three villages, Giana, Malkana and Jajjal, had very high uranium traces (see box). The daily intake of uranium in food, excluding water, was highest at Giana at 41.09 g and with water it was 138.41 g. The acceptable limit of uranium in dietary intake is 5 g per day.

"The uranium traces are because of groundwater contamination," said Surinder Singh Parmar, the supervisor of the study. The groundwater could have been contaminated by granite found in Tusham hills in Bhiwani, Haryana. Granite contains radioactive metals like uranium. "There is some granite that lies exposed in Bhiwani but most of it is underground and spreads to Rajasthan and Punjab as well.Since it is underground, only the groundwater gets contaminated. If it were above the surface, the soil and air too would be contaminated," he said.

The university will study adjoining Mansa, Mukhtsar and Faridkot districts in Punjab and Hissar and Fatehabad districts in Haryana. "Hissar and Fatehabad lie between Bathinda and Bhiwani and are also likely to have high groundwater contamination," Parmar said. There is reason for concern, he added, because chemical toxicity of uranium causes damage to the internal organs. It causes kidney problems and cancer. "The villages in Bathinda have a high incidence of cancer," he said.

The study also provides a lead to a probable source of the uranium traces among autistic and mentally retarded children in the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children in Faridkot. Uranium was found in the hair samples of the children (see 'Uranium traces in Punjab children', Down To Earth, April 30, 2009).

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