Data recently provided by the government in Lok Sabha indicates that the number of fluoride affected habitations have decreased by almost 80% in the last 10 years. Five-states make up for more than 80% of the affected habitations as on date. Despite the significant progress, thousands are still susceptible to the disease and there are 1.2 million suspected cases of fluorosis in the country.
Fluoride is beneficial to humans when consumed at optimum levels as it helps prevent dental caries. However, exposure to fluoride in high concentrations frequently results in damage to the bones and teeth of humans apart from the other ill effects, such as crippling, staining and pitting of teeth. The disease caused by excess exposure is known as Fluorosis and is mainly of two types- Dental Fluorosis and Skeletal Fluorosis. As the names suggest, Dental Fluorosis is when the tooth enamel is damaged and Skeletal Fluorosis is when the bones are affected. Excessive fluoride accumulates in bones and causes the bones to weaken. Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to the condition. If detected at an early stage, the condition of the child can be reversed. But, in extreme cases, the person might even lose their ability to move.
Both natural and human activities release fluoride into the atmosphere
Consumption of water with high concentration Fluoride has been identified to be the major cause of the disease. Naturally, weathering of rocks rich in Fluoride ends up in the groundwater, mainly in arid and semi-arid regions. At the foot of high mountains and in areas where the sea has made geological deposits, the concentration of Fluoride is generally higher. Apart from this, emission of fly ash and use of phosphate containing fertilizers which also end up in water sources result in contamination of the water bodies. Other industrial activities such as cement production and aluminium smelting, also release fluoride into the environment.
Fluoride consumption through water is the prominent cause of the disease in India
Fluorosis is endemic in at least 25 countries, which lie in the natural Fluoride belts- one that stretches from Syria through Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Kenya, and another that stretches from Turkey through Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, northern Thailand and China. There are similar belts in the Americas and Japan. In India, presence of excessive fluoride in drinking water is the main cause of the disease. However, in parts of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, industrial fluorosis is also evident.