Cancer linked to polluted water in the Gangetic belt
river water contaminated by heavy metals is the main reason why gall bladder cancer is widespread in the alluvial plains of Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar. These are the findings of a study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.
Water of the Ganga river is used for bathing, drinking as well as irrigation in the two states. But the river is polluted by domestic sewage and industrial effluent, and contains concentrations of cadmium and other carcinogenic heavy metals that are much above the permissible limits of the World Health Organization.
During the study, the researchers examined bile (a digestive liquid secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder) of 96 patients facing either the problem of gall bladder stones or cancer. It was found that the concentrations of cadmium, chromium and lead were much higher in the bile samples of cancer patients than those having stones. "We established an indirect correlation between the disease incidences and the metals," says V K Shukla, the lead researcher.
Some experts, however, are sceptical about the findings. "The researchers should do a comparative study by including the healthy populations of the study area," asserts Harit Chaturvedi, a cancer surgeon at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. But Shukla feels that a comparative study is not needed as gall bladder cancer occurs mainly in the northern parts of India.
Denigration notwithstanding, the study is one of the few to establish linkages between a fatal disease in the highly populated ecosensitive region and the growing presence of toxic metals in the river. "The findings highlight the affects of toxins on our health. They need to be explored further," concludes Dinesh Pendharkar, a cancer specialist at Batra Hospital, New Delhi.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.