Sunday, March 15, 2009


Water is considered the fountain of life and it constitutes a major portion of all living things. Being a medium for all life sustaining metabolic activities, water needs to be supplied to the body through the food consumed and by direct consumption. While pure water is supposed to be free from pathogenic microorganisms and dangerous contaminants, the ground reality is that the current status of most of the so called protective water supply infrastructure does not guarantee its safety to the consumers. Though there are national and international standards for potable water, public health authorities turn a blind eye to all violations since water supply is mostly in government sector. This piquant situation has given scope for a thriving market for branded, bottled, safe drinking water products manufactured by over 1000 units in the private sector. Though they are supposed to be certified by ISI, the compliance is more often perfunctory with very little punitive action taken against defaulters.

Practically every house hold in towns and cities invest on water cleansing gadgets to make the water supplied by the civic bodies really safe for them. Those depending on bore well supplies face additional safety concerns because of high degree of hardness and possibility of unpredictable contaminants present in such water samples. Water purification by filtration, activated charcoal treatment, resin treatment, revers osmosis etc gives reasonably good water, especially from microbiological angle but presence of dangerous chemicals and traces of heavy metals still pose life time risks, especially in the long term.

It is well known that female sex hormones (estrogen) and many chemicals that mimic estrogen cause dramatic changes in the male fish leading to their feminization and loss of fertility. These chemicals originating from industrial effluents and medical wastes containing even harmful levels of contraceptive medications find their way into water bodies like rivers through the sewage treatment plants. Fish population living in these waters show remarkable tendency for sex change affecting the reproductive ability of male fish. In human beings infertility is often caused by testicular dysgenesis syndrome due to exposure to a range of anti-androgen chemicals, present in pesticides, anti-cancer treatment medicines, many medicinal products etc which inhibited the function of male hormone, Testosterone. Two major reasons for male infertility are stress conditions in life and pollution from chemicals. DDT's adverse effect on the fertility rate of Alligators in Florida USA, decades ago, is one of the well documented evidences that opened up the Pandora's box vis-a-vis dangers of pesticides.

Per Flourinated Compounds (PFCs), many in number, are omnipresent in almost all consumer products and their presence has been reported in air and water also as a result of large scale industrial pollutants finding their way from chemical plants . Chemicals like Bis-phenol A (BPA), Pthalates, Chloridane, Dielderin, Heptachlor, Hexa Chlorobenzene, Toxaphene, Perchlorates, Alkylphenols and many others are part and parcel of hundreds of modern day house-hold consumer products inventory which find their way, albeit in small concentrations into human body capable of inflicting heavy damage to the health including fertility. Though this may be a scary situation, the extent of risk posed by them depends on the frequency and intensity of exposure which is determined by the living style of the people. Most alarming is the quality of water that is available in many places located near chemical industries and waste treatment plants. While water treatment system is confined routinely to filtration and disinfection by chlorination in many urban areas, what is not checked is the chemical quality which can only reveal the safety.

Probably a mission-like project to assess the chemical quality of water at least in all the protected water supply areas in the country can be a beginning in addressing the potential dangers posed by these chemicals to the health of the population. The shocking fact that in Patna alone, there are 29 discharge points of effluents into the Ganges, must wake us up from any complacency. Many years ago a national project was undertaken to monitor heavy metals in water in different parts of the country but what came out of this study is not known. Whether it is Ministry of Health or any other agency, 'mission project on chemical quality of water' must be taken up on a priority to avert possible human disaster and tragedy of unimaginable dimension, for the future generation.


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