In what is being seen as a disturbing trend, studies have revealed that the drinking and groundwater in Chittoor district is polluted with high concentrations of uranium, 135 times more than the safe limit fixed by the World Health Organisation. Research studies in Vagalla and nearby villages in the district revealed that drinking and well water contained as much as 2,700 nanograms per millilitre, as against a permissible limit of 20 ng/ml. The Geological Survey of India, Hyderabad and Kolkata units, collected water samples from the area after it was found that it was a potential source for uranium.
Some villagers had been having health problems too. Analysis of the water samples also revealed the presence of a number of contaminants in quantities far exceeding the permissible limits. Besides uranium, researchers found high concentrations of nitrate, up to 1,810 micrograms per millilitre (the permissible limit is 45 micrograms per ml), fluoride, up to 3 micrograms per ml (permissible limit 1.5 microgram per ml), strontium, 1409 nanograms per millilitre (permissible limit 1,000 ng/ml) and manganese, 1211 ng/ml (permissible limit 300 ng/ml).
Chittoor is the second district in the state after Nalgonda where drinking and underground water was found contaminated by the radioactive uranium. Earlier studies had shown that water drawn from Nalgonda district (Nagarjunasagar Dam) to Hyderabad was contaminated with uranium. The city-based Atomic Minerals Directorate, too, had conducted surveys at Lakkireddipalle near Vagalla village to find if there were any uranium resources.
Eminent neurologist Dr D. Raja Reddy of Apollo Hospitals, who was part of the GSI study team, told this newspaper that they had found about a dozen elements including Uranium in drinking and well water in Vagalla and nearby areas. “The Geological Survey of India took up the research to find out if extraction of uranium was economically viable,” he said, adding that high concentration of uranium in drinking water could lead to congenital health issues.