Lethal find

Scientists find high arsenic content in Haryana's groundwater

Published: Tuesday 15 October 2002

A group of scientists studying salinity levels in the aquifers of Haryana stumbled across a bigger problem. The team from the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (cssri) found arsenic in the groundwater of Gohana block in Sonepat district of Haryana. Worse still, the levels of the contaminant were well above the permissible limits.

The peak concentration of arsenic found in three villages out of the five tested was more than 27 milligramme per litre (mg / l). The World Health Organisation's (who) prescribed norms allow 0.05 mg/l of arsenic in drinking water. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao), too, permits only 0.10 mg/l of arsenic in water used for irrigation purposes.

The cssri scientists have been conducting tests over the past two years in the region. Apart from arsenic the scientists have detected very high levels of other heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and nickel as well. According to S K Kamra, principal scientist, cssri, the topographical depression of the Gohana block leads to industrial effluents flowing in from the adjacent areas and accumulating there.

However, experts have not been able to arrive at a definite conclusion about the source of arsenic pollution in the area. A Mongia, principal scientist with the Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research and formerly with the cssri, points out: "The most perplexing thing is that there are no industries in the region that release arsenic."

Ironically, the Central Ground Water Board (cgwb) -- the nodal authority in the country for checking groundwater pollution -- is clueless about this potential environmental and health hazard. Even the Haryana Pollution Control Board (hpcb) is blissfully unaware. When asked about the cssri findings, H F Benz, chairperson of hpcb, too pleaded ignorance.

Till now, it has been assumed that arsenic in major proportions was endemic only to the deltas of West Bengal and Bangladesh, but the recent discovery is cause for concern.

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