Uranium in groundwater affecting health in Punjab

Water polluted due to discharge of waste from thermal plants

The high incidence of cancer and other diseases in Punjab’s Malwa belt has been highlighted over the last decade.

Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh confirmed the presence of uranium, arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals in groundwater in Punjab.

The worst affected is southwest Punjab’s fertile Malwa belt - the area south of the river Sutlej - comprising the districts of Mansa, Bathinda, Moga, Faridkot, Barnala, Sangrur and some parts of Ludhiana.

“The level of uranium in the ground water is 50 per cent over the WHO norms. The source of this is not yet known. Punjab is the only state to have uranium in its water,” Ramesh said here.

Of the 2,462 samples of water collected from tubewells across Punjab, 1,140 samples had tested positive for the presence of uranium and arsenic. In the Malwa belt, the number of patients suffering from cancer and other diseases and children being born with abnormalities is growing.

In fact, a train that connects Bathinda with Bikaner in neighbouring Rajasthan is known as the Cancer Express as it ferries a large number of cancer patients from Punjab to Bikaner for treatment at a cancer hospital.

Water testing lab

The Union government, which has promised to give Punjab Rs 525 crore to make its water uranium free, has already sanctioned a water testing laboratory at Mohali.

According to Umendra Dutt, director of the Kheti Virasat Mission, an NGO that works for agriculture and environment causes, an immediate plan is needed to tackle the multiple environmental toxicity in Punjab's water.

“The rampant use of pesticides and agro-chemicals to achieve the green revolution is responsible for this situation,” Dutt said.

Contamination

Some environmentalists say the pollution and waste from thermal plants and explosives has led contaminated water.

The government has sought technical help from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to tackle the problem of uranium in groundwater. 

Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to allocate a special budget to tackle with uranium problem as it
has been done in the case of arsenic and fluoride contamination.

He said the BARC team was trying to locate the source of uranium contamination and the Punjab government was taking all possible measures to provide a reverse osmosis (RO) system for the supply of safe drinking water in the affected areas.

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