Fluoride Action Network

Fluorosis burst bares green secrets

Source: The Statesman | STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE
Posted on June 5th, 2004
Location: India

KOLKATA, June 5. — The chief minister and others wearing the cap of “green” activists – leaders, officials, NGOs et al – spent World Environment Day going hammer and tongs for a cleaner and disease-free environment. But few, if any, cared to lend an ear to patients of dental fluorosis, caused by high flouride content in water from tube wells, just off city limits.

Incidence of dental fluorosis have been reported from Rajpur, Sonarpur, Tegharia, Kamrabad and Kendarpur areas of South 24 Parganas.

Practising dentists have identified several cases of dental fluorosis which district health officials maintain could be a new phenomenon, never reported before. Their only explanation is that if this be true, they would be conducting a preliminary investigation of the areas to find out the extent of the prevalence.

“If local dentists have found such cases, then they should report them to us so that we can study their data and if necessary launch a first-hand investigation into the cases. We will have to look at the severity of the problem and also its extent first and then we can come to any conclusion. We can then take necessary steps to stop its spread,” said Dr Dipankar Maji, Deputy CMOH II, South 24 Parganas.

Here lies the catch. The only two state agencies, Public Health Engineering Directorate and the State Water Investigation Directorate involved in carrying out surveys to find out chemical contamination of drinking water in the state have remained ignorant about the problem. Their investigations are restricted to Nalhati and Rampurhat blocks of Birbhum district, which were identified as flourosis-prone decades back.

“We only carry out such surveys in Birbhum where flourosis has already been reported but we have no information about flouride contamination in drinking water in any tubewells in South 24 Parganas. So we have not done any surveys there,” said Mr Prabir Duta, chief engineer (HQ), PHE department.

However, the Geological Survey of India first reported flourosis contamination at a well in Rajpur 40 years ago and more recently in 1998 when they were conducting a survey in the Sonarpur and Rajpur areas for arsenic contamination in drinking water. During that exercise, they found excessive flouride content in many tubewells and suggested that the state government immediately study its impact on public heath. Spurred by these findings, the State Water Investigation Directorate carried out tests on water samples collected form tubewells in the area, three years back.

“Chemical tests of the samples of water collected from those tubewells found excess flouride content but that report was never made public as the directorate decided that the tests were not comprehensive enough. And health surveys of people affected with dental fluorois because of the flouride contamination in drinking water were not done. So, at that time it was decided that a further survey would be carried out in these areas on a larger scale,” said Mr S. N. Lahiri, Superintendent Engineer of SWID. Unfortunately that survey is yet to kick off.

An NGO, however, came forward for this survey last year and their report finds appreciable increase in dental fluorosis cases in the five areas of South 24 Parganas. Ardem Centre for Resource Development and Environment Management carried out the survey with help from local dentist Dr Sujata Mukherjee and Dr. S.R. Mitra. “In Sonarpur, I found several cases of dental flourosis, which means that people here are exposed to flouride contaminated water,” said Dr Mukherjee.

They now fear that prolonged exposure could lead to the more severe form of flourosis, which is Skeletal Flourosis. “We found several cases of dental flourosis especially in Rajpur and Sonarpur areas. We have also found that people in these areas are also vulnerable to bone fracture, which means that people in the area are also showing primary signs of Skeletal Flourosis, which causes crippling of bones and has no cure. Since the state authorities have shown little interest in this matter, we sent our report to the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission based in New Delhi, who later asked us to send a detail survey of the areas,” said Dr PB Taron, director of Ardem Centre.

KMC to seal deep tube wells: To arrest arsenic contamination in the metropolis, Kolkata Municipal Corporation has decided to seal all its 430 deep tube wells and offset the shortage with fresh surface water supply of 100 million gallons from Palta works from next month. City mayor Mr Subrata Mukherjee said today that the KMC-operated deep tubewells would be sealed to stop arsenic contamination, while fresh move would be taken to create awareness about drawing ground water by about 5,000 private tube wells, which amounted to about 15 million gallons per day. The KMC, he said, had spent Rs 250 crore for augmenting of supply from Palta works.

He said that KMC had received reports about arsenic poisoning and various other ailments due to intake of water from the deep tube wells. The mayor, who visited KMC’s water projects along with state’s municipal affairs minister Mr Ashok Bhattacharya, told reporters that while the Palta waterworks cater to the daily need of 220 million gallons in north Kolkata, the Garden Reach works meets the requirement of south and central parts of metropolis.