GUWAHATI – There is an urgent need for undertaking pipe water supply schemes based on surface water sources for meeting the community drinking water needs in the State, besides converting the existing iron removal plants into cost and time saving arsenic removal ones, wherever needed. Such measures have become imperative in view of the discovery of arsenic and fluoride in the ground-water of many districts of the State.

This observation was made by noted public health engineer AB Paul, a former Chief Engineer of the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) of the State, who discovered presence of fluoride in the ground-water of Karbi Anglong and also led to the discovery of presence of fluoride and arsenic in the ground-water of many other districts of the State.

A May 8, 2012 report of this newspaper said the UNICEF stated that ground-water in 18 districts of the State are contaminated with arsenic. It also reported fluoride contamination of ground-water in five districts. It quoted Minister of State for Water Resources, Vincent H Pala as replying to a question from Naznin Faruque in the Rajya Sabha.

The districts affected by arsenic contamination include Baksa (44 habitations), Barpeta (119), Bongaigaon (47), Cachar (139), Darrang (105), Dhemaji (43), Dhubri (81), Goalpara (14), Golaghat (278) and Hailakandi (28), Jorhat (364), Karimganj (66), Morigaon (30), North Lakhimpur (54), Nagaon (one), Nalbari (238), Sivasagar (109) and Sonitpur (109).

The five districts affected by fluoride contamination include Golaghat (four habitations), Karbi Anglong (140), Kamrup (36), Karimganj (three) and Nagaon (358), the report said.

Paul, also a former consultant of the UNICEF, said there are hundreds of ground-water treatment plants in piped water supply schemes (PWSS), each catering to a group of villages mainly for iron removal in Assam. Of late with the finding of excess arsenic with iron in many of those areas, the urgent need of suitable arsenic removal system compatible with present situation is strongly felt, he said.

Though the PHED has realised the gravity of the situation and embarked on engineering mitigation for arsenic, vastness of the problem together with the financial and technological constraints, has made full coverage of effected villages a time consuming proposition.