Fluoride Action Network

Students step in where government fears to tread

Source: The Telegraph (Calcutta) | December 11th, 2008 | By Nagaon
Location: India

Thirty college sophomores have set out to do what a slew of government schemes promised but failed — root out the seeds of water contamination in Nagaon and Karbi Anglong.

Ever since arsenic and fluoride were found in the ground water along the Nagaon-Karbi Anglong border nearly a decade ago, thousands of villagers have been living in the fear of contracting diseases or walking miles to fetch uncontaminated water.

A sophisticated laboratory was set up in the Karbi Anglong headquarters to conduct chemical tests of water samples but lack of funds and staff crunch soon turned the centre into an abandoned building surrounded by thick vegetation.

When the survey team from Nowgong College spread out into the district’s bordering areas with Karbi Anglong, in addition to the samples of water and soil, they were inundated with stories of human suffering.

“We are doing a village-wise detailed field study in these areas. Our primary aim is to compile a report on the presence of arsenic, fluoride, nitrate, sodium, iron, potassium and fluorine in water,” said Karpuri Sarma, a second year BSc student majoring in chemistry.

Villagers are only too grateful to help.

“Here we have no way to find out if there is fluoride or arsenic in ground water. There are office records about installation of alternative drinking water sources. But all that is only on paper,” said Bhubon Rangpi, a villager of Parakhowa in Karbi Anglong.

The six-month special course sponsored by the University Grants Commission will help understand the current chemical composition of the district’s soil and water.

“We are taking technical and manpower assistance from the Agriculture Engineering College and the natural resource management department of neighbouring Tezpur University,” said chemistry department head Balin Kumar Bhuyan.

According to a public health engineering department report, fluoride was found in the ground water of hundreds of villages in the bordering areas from Kohora to Kothiatoli.

“Contamination of arsenic was discovered in some places of Koliabor subdivision and bordering areas with Karbi Anglong a couple of years back. We have imposed restrictions on collecting drinking from these sources,” a source in the department said.