GUWAHATI – Groundwater in 169 villages of Nagaon district has been found to be contaminated with fluoride.

The safe level of fluoride in water for human consumption is one milligram per litre.

Dharani Saikia of the voluntary organisation Environment Conservation Centre (ECC) told this correspondent that of these fluoride-affected villages, 132 are located under Kathiatoli Development Block and 37 are located under West Kaliabor Development Block.

Fluoride contamination of groundwater in these villages came to light during a survey conducted in May last by the ECC.

Earlier in 2003, the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) also detected fluoride contamination in those villages, but the findings were allegedly ignored by the Department for reasons best known to it.

Saikia said that the PHED is presently preparing a long-term scheme to supply safe drinking water from the Kopili river to these villages at an estimated cost of Rs 75 crore.

A meeting of all the stakeholders was held at the conference room of the Nagaon Deputy Commissioner in connection with mitigating the threat of fluoride contamination of drinking water on October 21 at the initiative of the ECC. The meeting was presided over by Nagaon Deputy Commissioner Shamsher Singh.

It was decided in the meeting that the PHED would instal ring wells for the benefit of the people of the fluoride-affected villages within the district as a short-term measure.

It is alleged that the Department had spent over Rs 7 crore on 16 piped water schemes after detecting high fluoride contamination in the groundwater of these areas in 2003. These schemes are now defunct, Saikia said.

The participants of the meeting made an appeal to the PHED not to undertake any water supply scheme without testing the quality of water proposed to be supplied to the consumers.

The meeting further resolved that the Health Department should cover all the villages of the district under its fluorosis prevention and control programme and should also instal modern facilities like digital X-ray machine etc at the Nagaon Civil Hospital. It should also develop Lutumari Primary Health Centre into a full-fledged one.

It further appealed to the departments concerned to make provision for supply of safe drinking water to the schools and to supply calcium-rich food to the students of the affected areas under the mid-day meal scheme.

The meeting called for a concerted drive to plant sajina, amla and teteli etc plants in the district. It also called for a system to supply safe drinking water to the Kaliabor fluoride-hit areas from the existing water supply schemes of those areas throughout the year. At present, these schemes remained non-functional for four dry months in a year.

The Deputy Commissioner appealed to all the departments concerned to work in tandem for checking the menace of fluoride contamination of drinking water, Saikia said.

The meeting was attended by Additional Deputy Commissioners Mridul Kumar Das and Anupam Deka, Joint Director of Health Services Atul Pator, PHED Superintending Engineer Devajit Kalita, Block Development Officer of Kathiatoli Biswajit Bora, Kathiatoli Block Elementary Education Officer Unis Ali, Nagaon District Social Welfare Department official Bina Bora and the Panchayat presidents of the fluoride-affected areas, besides members of the Zilla Parishad, Saikia said