NAGPUR: The increasing fluoride concentration in groundwater in rural areas of the state is leading to chronic diseases like skeleton and dental fluorosis, and in some areas deaths too, some studies have shown.
Though fluoride presence in groundwater is mainly due to natural contamination, the studies have revealed that anthropogenic activities like using fertilizers and pesticides containing phosphates, discharge of untreated industrial effluents and depletion of groundwater are also responsible for the high fluoride levels.
Following recent orders passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) jointly identified industries in the state that are using groundwater and require no objection certificate (NOC) from the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA).
The order was passed following a plea filed in the tribunal by a group of lawyers from western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada. The appellants highlighted that high fluoride concentration in groundwater in 12 districts of the state is taking a toll on public health, especially the rural population which depends 80-85% on groundwater. “There have been cases of people dying of fluorosis but figures have not been made available yet. Until now, the gravity of the issue was never taken seriously,” said one of the applicants Asim Sarode.
The survey reports conducted by government agencies and affidavits filed by district collectors indicated that Nanded, Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Beed were the worst affected districts. As per an affidavit filed by Nanded district collector, 645 out of 6,060 water samples collected from 383 villages were found to be having fluoride content above permissible limits. In Chandrapur, 548 out of 11,003 samples had increased fluoride and 104 groundwater sources in Beed and 633 sources in Yavatmal were found to be containing excess fluoride.
In the drought-affected area Latur, 40 suspected patients of skeletal fluorosis were found in 16 villages. Apart from this, 90 patients suffering from dental fluorosis were also identified. Also, a health and urine examination conducted at school level revealed that out of 1,590 students, 473 were suffering from dental fluorosis. “The rural population is forced to drink water which is contaminated with the increased concentration of fluorides which is adversely affecting their health,” the plea stated.
Though the process is being conducted in different phases, till now over 2,000 such industries have been picked out and their list has been uploaded on MPCB’s official website. Out of these, around 1,900 industries are from Nagpur while the remaining are from Amravati, Chandrapur, Pune, Nashik, Thane, Kolhapur, Raigad, Kalyan and Aurangabad. MPCB officials however informed that some of these industries have the required permission and many others are in the process of securing NOC.
CGWB officials said that following the tribunal’s directions, the board has issued a public notice stating that all industries or mining projects using groundwater as raw material or for various industrial purposes have to mandatorily obtain NOC. “While giving consent, various parameters are considered depending on the category of areas,” said an official. The areas have been categorized as safe, semi-critical, critical and over-exploited depending on the quantity and consumption of groundwater.
EXCESS FLUORIDE IS BAD FOR HEALTH
Most affected districts: Nanded, Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Beed
What is fluoride: Fluoride, which is an important constituent in the drinking water and a good teeth enamel, has been identified as an environmental pollutant and harmful when it exceeds the permissible limit. As per Indian standard, the permissible standard of fluoride concentration is 1mg/l and in absence of alternate water source, it is 1.5 mg/l.
How does it enter groundwater: Though fluoride presence in groundwater is mainly due to presence of specific minerals in the geological formation, studies revealed that anthropogenic activities like using fertilizers and pesticides containing phosphates, discharge of untreated industrial effluents and unabated over-exploitation of groundwater are also responsible for high fluoride levels.
Ill effects on health: Harmful when it exceeds the permissible limit. May lead to fluoride poisoning and skeleton and dental fluorosis.