Groundwater in 10 Bihar districts contaminated by uranium: Study

Researchers yet to find the source of uranium in groundwater

By C K Manoj
Published: Thursday 09 April 2020

A new study conducted by the University of Manchester, UK and Mahavir Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Phulwarisharif in Patna has found uranium contaminating the groundwater in 10 districts of Bihar.

It took one-and-a-half years for the researchers to come to the conclusion. They are yet to find out the source of uranium in groundwater.

Supaul, Gopalganj, Siwan, Saran, Patna, Nalanda, Nawada, Aurangabad, Gaya and Jehanabad are the 10 districts.

“Uranium concentrations are elevated mostly in the North West-South East band along and to the east of Gandak river and running south of the Ganga river towards Jharkhand, particularly in Gopalganj Siwan, Saran, Patna, Nalanda and Nawada districts,” the study read.

The peer-reviewed study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on April 6, 2020.

“There are also high uranium samples in Supaul district which appear to be more isolated. Elevated uranium to the south of the Ganga and especially in the south-western districts of Aurangabad, Gaya, Jehanabad, Nalanda and Nawada is consistent with previous work in Bihar,” the study added.

The maximum uranium content was in Supaul, 80 microgram of uranium per litre of water. The permissible limit according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is 30 microgram per litre. It was also below the permissible limit in Patna.

Exposure to uranium may lead to numerous adverse health impacts including bone toxicity and impaired renal function, the study said.

“This is the first time that uranium content has been detected in groundwater. This is very dangerous and could cause cancer,” one of the researchers, Ashok Ghosh told Down to Earth on April 9.

Ghosh, who is currently the chairman of the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, is also the head of department for research at Mahavir Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Patna.

“But we have not found out the source of the uranium in the groundwater as the coronavirus outbreak has hampered our study,” Ghosh said.

The presence of uranium was indeed very surprising, Ghosh said. “So far, we had known only about the Jaduguda uranium mines,” he said. The mines are today in Jharkhand, that was once a part of Bihar.

The research teams had collected samples from 273 places across the state last year before the monsoon for studying mobilisation of arsenic in groundwater but the test of the samples found uranium in at least 10 districts, Ghosh said.

The 10 districts showed uranium concentrations very much in excess of the WHO’s prescribed limit.

Arsenic contamination has long been a problem in various Bihar districts and has been a health hazard as well.

“Groundwater arsenic and uranium were strongly inversely correlated, with higher arsenic generally prevalent in reducing conditions near the north of the Ganga,” the study said.

Arsenic was first reported in 2003 in Bihar’s Bhojpur district, according to researchers.

A large-scale study of 67,000 water sources in 2007 reported elevated arsenic in 11 districts of Bihar including Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Buxar, Katihar, Khagaria, Munger, Patna, Samastipur, Saran and Vaishali. Today, arsenic content is found in 22 districts of the state.

Wheat consumption has recently been identified as an emerging route of exposure to arsenic in Bihar.

West Bengal has the maximum estimated population of those at risk for arsenic contamination (26 million), followed by Bihar (9 million), Uttar Pradesh (3 million), Assam (1.2) million), Manipur (1 million) and Jharkhand (0.4 million), according to the report.

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