BHUBANESWAR: Fluoride reportedly released from a smelter plant last week has damaged crops in at least 2,000 hectares of cultivable land in Orissa’s Angul district, officials claimed Monday.
About 3,000 farmers who lost their crops demonstrated before the district collector’s office Monday, demanding compensation for the damage caused to their crops.
The fluoride was reportedly released from the smelter plant of National Aluminium Company Ltd. (NALCO) at Angul, 161 km from here, and burnt the paddy crops in nearly a dozen villages under the Khalari area.
The officials at the helm of affairs at the plant, however, denied the allegation and said the damage to crops may be due to other reasons.
“There was rain and lightning the past week and the damage to crops might be from other reasons,” said Ashok Roy, executive director of the plant.
However, the district agriculture office holds a different view. “I had been to the affected villages last Wednesday and saw the damage. It seems to be the impact of fluoride,” district agriculture officer Khirod Naik said.
“I too felt a burning sensation in my eyes, which was due to the impact of the fluoride,” he said.
“The crop was just getting ready for harvest. The impact of the fluoride was such that all paddy crops here have been burnt. We will not get any crop this year due to the fluoride,” Anil Pradhan, a resident of Ankuli village told IANS.
“There are many whose crops have been burnt in my village and in those nearby,” he said.
Fluoride, a by-product of aluminum smelting, has contaminated the groundwater in villages located near the plants. As a result, several people and cattle are suffering from fluorosis, which can result in skin disease and cause bones and teeth to grow brittle.
The state pollution control board had tested water wells and ponds and found fluoride well in excess of the regulatory limit, a top official of the state environment department told IANS.
“In a study conducted in the area in 1990, scientists found an astonishing 67 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women suffering from fluorosis. The people most affected are young and between the age group of 12 and 19,” he said.
Cattle population has also dropped precipitously in the area because of a bone-weakening disease due to the impact of fluoride, he added.