Bengaluru: 300 'severely ill' due to contaminated water

Over 300 infected by contaminated water at Bengaluru apartment building

Testing of the water showed a coliform bacteria count of over 1,800, while the permissible limit is 10

An image of the flooded basement at Prestige Kew Gardens in Bellandur where the freshwater sump and sewage water drain (located next to each other) are underwater with an unknown source of muddy water jetting from the left wall over the freshwater sump. Credit: Special arrangement

About 340 children and adults have become seriously ill and the numbers are climbing as residents of a 979-unit apartment complex in southeastern Bengaluru find themselves at the ground zero of a crisis.

Residents of Prestige Kew Gardens, located in Yemalur, told DH that the issue began on October 23 when heavy rains flooded a basement containing the complex’s freshwater sump and sewage water drain. The apartment was completed in mid-2019, and about 750 units have been occupied.

“The freshwater sump collecting water through rainwater harvesting is built right next to the sewage treatment sump. When the basement flooded, sewage water appears to have entered the freshwater supply,” said Manish Singh, a member of the apartment’s ad hoc resident welfare association.

It is a hypothesis shared by Yaseen, head of water management for Prestige, who noted that about 80 mm of rain on October 23 had triggered the problem. At the same, the root cause is not yet known. “We have also shut off three off the four borewells and are investigating the cause,” he said.

Within hours on October 23, some 140 people were sick with diarrhoea, vomiting or fever. By October 28, the total stood at 240.

Sriram Krishnan, a resident, said that angered exchanges with the Prestige Group prompted the cleaning of pipes and chlorination of the sumps. Then on November 2, people started to become sick again. As of Thursday night, some 100 new cases had been reported to the BBMP.

“This shows that the root cause has not been addressed,” said Krishnan, adding that his eight-year-old daughter was among those affected.

According to the residents’ committee, about 30% of the nearly 340 infected people are children, many of them babies. At least one resident said he had moved out after he, his two-year-old child and his 60-year-old mother became ill despite drinking only water from their filtration system.

Another resident said he believed that the scale of the contamination could be defeating filtration systems. “It is also possible that even minimal contact with tap water while taking bath and brushing our teeth causes infection,” he said.

Testing of the water showed a coliform bacteria count of over 1,800, while the permissible limit is 10. Nitrate levels were also over permissible limits in two out of four borewells. “Doctors are saying that this level of contagion in the water makes it virtually sewage water,” a resident said.

While the testing did not find traces of E.Coli, Dr Subrata Das, an internal medicine expert at Sakra World Hospital who has been treating the residents, noted that infections are a serious problem in the pandemic. “An immunocompromised person is vulnerable to Covid-19,” he said.

R Venkatachalapathi, Joint Commissioner Mahadevapura, said the water was being tested by the BWSSB and the KSPCB and promised a house-to-house survey on Friday. “The report will be out on the 6th (Saturday),” he said.

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