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January 21, 2015
Kali Nadi, Meerut U.P, India

Kali Nadi, Meerut U.P, India

Toxic water and farming:

Recent survey conducted by the Punjab (northern India state) Government on the contamination of vegetables reveals a threatening picture of what people consume, and the urgency required to resolve the issues.

According to the above survey, 51 samples of 16 vegetables were collected from nine divisional headquarters and tested for 22 metals. They were found to have been contaminated with toxic metals like cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel etc. In Punjab, 98 tehsil municipal areas produce 504m gallons of wastewater daily, and out of them 66 use the same water for agriculture purposes, and 28 dispose their wastewater into canals, rivers and their tributaries; only four have some kind of wastewater disposal system. Thus, an overwhelming amount of the wastewater finds its way into agriculture. The provincial water treatment capacity is woefully inadequate. Punjab has only oxidation ponds in the southern part of the province. Thus, its most populated areas (major cities) like Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujranwala do not have any treatment plants.

Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to the state of Punjab in northern India. For decades, farmers in Meerut and adjoining districts in Western Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), have irrigated their crops with pesticides laden water. These same pesticides are banned in the developed nations due to their carcinogenic and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) characteristics.

The problem elevates where these toxic material finds their way into the food supply chain.This results in Biomagnification (also known as bioamplification or biological magnification), where the concentration of a substance, such as DDT or mercury, in an organism exceeds the background concentration of the substance in its diet.

I was a part of  the study that People Sciences Institute (PSI), Dehradun’s staff undertook, accompanied by the staff of Janhit Foundation in the districts of western (U.P.). The team collected soil and vegetable samples from different locations during November 2004 end and in May 2005. Considering the nature of pesticides and possibility of their leaching into groundwater, samples from dug wells, tube wells, and the nearby Eastern Kali river, were also gathered. Fifty samples were analyzed with the help of  Gas Chromatograph in PSI’s Environmental Quality Monitoring (EQM) lab. Information about the frequency of pesticides applications, quantity and types of pesticides used were obtained from the farmers. This information was used to select the pesticides for quantitative analyses. For sampling, extraction and analyses, EPA methods (8081A and 8141A) were followed.

Scientists, policy makers, local and state administrative staff, nonprofits, donor agencies and other experts have undertaken several visits and studies, since 2005,  however only little or no improvement is evident in the present state of Kali river and farming around it. It has also been concluded time and again that if this situation remains unchecked, the slow poisoning would only help create a generation of physically and mentally handicapped citizens. This threat is visible in the follow up public health and environmental studies, undertaken by a few nonprofits in the effected areas.

Water is complex and it takes time in understanding how its toxicity effects the living beings it passes through.

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