Khem karan, March 6 Sajjan Singh, 55, a resident of nearby Assal Uttar village is waiting for the doctor at the local community health centre here. He can’t speak much, his body aches, his teeth have turned yellow and dis-coloured awfully, causing premature decay. But he is not alone as out of the 20 patients queued up here, 16 have come with the same complaint.
“He is an acute case of skeletal fluorosis, the water-born disease, which is so widely prevalent that 90 per cent of the population of this area is affected and alarmingly, the situation seems to be getting out of control’’, said Dr Parminder Singh, a senior dentist here.
“The problem arises due to the high fluoride content in water, and the disease aggravates as after a few years, not just teeth but bones get affected too, leading to not just pain in joints but even physical deformities’’, informed he. Dr Kashmir Singh Sohal, Senior Medical Officer (SMO), also admitted that excessive fluoride content in water was crippling the villagers and causing severe deformities.
The fluorosis is the most common disease in this border area, where access to clean drinking water remains a major challenge. “Besides being rendered with deformed limbs, villagers also suffer from cataract and early ageing because of the poor quality of water here. The only solution to the problem is controlling fluoride content in the water,” said Dr Sohal, adding that not only the aged but even youngsters in the area had been hit by “fluorosis”.
“Water — considered a saviour of life — is actually proving to be a curse for lakhs of people in the hundreds of villages in this area,” said Dr Parminder, adding that the worst affected were Patti, Khem Karan and Valtoha blocks where the brackish water was the major trouble. “Permissible level of fluoride, prescribed by WHO is one PPM (parts per million) but the water here contains alarmingly high levels of fluoride,” he said.
A recent survey by Dr M.S. Kesar, an Amritsar-based physician, had also confirmed that concentration of fluoride in water in the area was much higher than the permissible levels prescribed by WHO. “The first to get affected are teeth which turn yellowish, causing carries and dental enamel defects making them weak. Once hit by fluorosis, surgery is the only way to cure the disease, that too only after the fluoride content in the body has been brought down’’, says Dr Kesar.
“Though moderate amount leads to dental effects but long-term ingestion of a large amount of fluoride leads to potentially severe skeletal problems’’, says he, adding that improving drinking-water quality was critical to preventing fluorosis. In skeletal fluorosis, the fluoride accumulates in the bone and early symptoms are stiffness and pain in the joints.
Experts say that the removal of excessive fluoride from drinking water was difficult and expensive and the government would have to provide a long-time strategy to provide safe drinking water to people. Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Bikram Singh Majithia said that the government was pondering over a mega plan in cooperation with the World Bank and WHO, to provide safe water in the area in the coming years.