It isn't often that a post-graduate college decides to test the quality of water in its surrounding areas. In a five-month project begining January 2004, final year B pharma students of Gupta College of Technological Sciences in Asansol, West Bengal did exactly that. The students had to undertake a project in order to fulfill the requirements of their undergraduate course. The high incidence of water borne diseases such as jaundice, amoebiasis and colitis in the Asansol sub-divsion of West Bengal's Burdwan district impelled them to analyse the region's surface and groundwater.
A team of four -- Mrinal Kanti Ghosh, Arnab Mondal, Pranabesh Chakraborty and this author -- first collected water from different sources including the river Damodar, the main source of water supply of Asansol. Water from deep tube wells -- that are used for drinking and agricultural purposes in the area -- was also put under scrutiny, as was drinking water supplied to the local government hospital.
The samples were then put to different tests in the college laboratory; these included verifying quantities of salts such as chlorides, bicarbonates and sulphates (acute salinity renders water unfit for drinking) and ascertaining concentrations of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
The researchers knew full well that arsenic poisoning of groundwater affects 19 districts of West Bengal. So they decided to check the samples for this chemical as well.
These bacteria are known to affect the human intestine. The contamination could have been caused by sewage mixing with drinking water. It could also have been a result of careless water treatment. Let us not forget that such neglect has already been reported in the treatment of Kolkata's drinking water.
Anamika Sengupta is lecturer at the Gupta College of Technological Sciences, Asansol, West Bengal