Contaminated groundwater could be destroying kidneys

Contaminated groundwater could be destroying kidneys

A 2015 study by the Physics department in BU found the presence of indigestible uranium in the borewells of southern Bengaluru. Picture for representation

Next time you drink a glass of water, remember this: The city’s groundwater is filled with deadly chemicals and radioactive metals. When used for drinking water purposes, contaminated water can lead to a host of health problems. 

One of the toxic substances found in the city’s groundwater is uranium - a radioactive substance that is known to cause kidney damage.

A 2015 study by the Department of Physics in Bangalore University - “Radiological and chemical toxicity due to ingestion of uranium through drinking water in the environment of Bangalore, India” - found presence of uranium in borewells in southern Bengaluru.

In the study, 61% of 96 borewells contained uranium within the safe limit of 30μgL−1 (micrograms per litre) as set by the World Health Organisation. About 6% of the samples showed values higher than the acceptable level for radiological risk and 39% of the samples showed risk due to chemical toxicity of uranium.

Dr N Nagaiah, professor, department of physics, Bangalore University, said that uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element found in certain groundwater samples. “Whether this concentration of radioactive elements has affected the health of the citizens through kidney damage is something which needs to be studied in the long run,” he added.

Dr Manjunath, nephrologist, BR Life SSNMC Hospital, said ingestion of heavy and radioactive metals through water and air can damage kidneys.

“One of the major cause of kidney disease in recent days is uranium-contaminated water,”said Manjunath. “This causes chronic interstitial nephritis and leads to kidney disease. Increased exposure to an excess amount of uranium can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. It also increases the risk of hypertension, and anaemia or low blood count. The pollutant in the water gets stored in the body, especially in the bones, kidneys and liver after oral ingestion or inhalation.” 

Dr Sushma Rani R, senior consultant, Nephrology, Sakra World Hospital, said uranium in groundwater gets accumulated in kidneys and other organs. “It especially affects the tubular functions of the kidney and may cause chronic kidney disease. Problems arise when there is chronic ingestion of uranium in drinking water. Uranium is more harmful due to its toxic nature rather than its radioactivity and it has been identified as a kidney toxin by World Health Organization (WHO),” she said.