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Groundwater in Himachal's Baddi Barotiwala has cancer causing metals: IIT study

New research from IIT Mandi and Jammu reveals heavy metal and geogenic uranium contamination in groundwater in Himachal Pradesh's BB industrial area, posing severe health risks. Geospatial mapping highlights contamination hotspots.

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Groundwater in Himachal's Baddi Barotiwala has cancer causing metals: IIT study

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New research shows heavy metals and geogenic uranium contaminate the groundwater in Himachal Pradesh's Baddi-Barotiwala (BB) industrial area. Researchers from Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Mandi and Jammu discovered this, raising concerns about health risks for local communities.

The Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh (BB) industrial area, Asia's largest pharmaceutical hub, houses 89% of Himachal Pradesh's industries. It's located in the Solan district at the foothills of the Shiwalik range, symbolizing the state's economic progress. However, a growing environmental crisis threatens its achievements.

Cancer-causing pollutants in Himachal groundwater

Dr. Deepak Swami, Associate Professor at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Mandi, and lead researcher, warns of health hazards from using groundwater for drinking in this region. "Monitoring industrial effluents for zinc, lead, nickel, and chromium is essential to prevent these health hazards. Policies are needed for balancing industrial development with public health for sustainable growth."

The study published in Science of the Total Environment used chemical hydrology techniques to analyze groundwater samples. The findings are alarming: cancer-causing pollutants like zinc, lead, cobalt, nickel, and chromium were present, often exceeding permissible limits. The research also found traces of geogenic uranium, adding complexity to the contamination issue.

Groundwater in the BB region flows through calcium carbonate rocks, determining its natural composition. The study showed similar levels of uranium (likely from natural sources), but mostother metals came from industrial activities.

"Our research team studied the area to assess pollution in the Baddi-Barotiwala industrial belt. The aim was to analyze the chemical composition of groundwater, considered potable by nearby communities," says Dr. Nitin Joshi, Assistant Professor at IIT Jammu. "What we found was deeply concerning."

The study showed significant non-carcinogenic risks for adults and children from natural uranium and industrial zinc, lead, cobalt, and barium. There were high carcinogenic risks for adults from industrial nickel and chromium.

Dr. Joshi's warning is stark: "If not addressed, the lower Himalayan region will become like southwestern Punjab." His reference to Punjab isn't without reason. The state has been grappling with a severe water quality crisis, causing a rise in cancer cases and the 'Cancer Express' - a train carrying patients to specialized hospitals.

Groundwater contamination causing health crisis

The study further mentioned that groundwater contamination has far-reaching implications. In developing countries, over 80% of health problems are linked to waterborne diseases, causing 1.5 million deaths annually due to poor water quality and sanitation. The BB industrial area is already witnessing early signs of this health crisis.

According to the study, “1,983 cancer cases were reported in the Baddi industrial region between 2013 and 2018. In the same period, a local health unit recorded 15,310 patients with renal diseases and 190 cancer patients categorized as waterborne diseases. These statistics underscore the urgent need for intervention”.

"The reliance on untreated groundwater in this region is a ticking time bomb," says Dr. Swami. "Most of the population comprises laborers and workers who lack access to advanced water treatment facilities. They consume this contaminated water directly, putting their health at grave risk."

Geospatial mapping highlights contamination risks

One innovative aspect of this study is its use of geospatial mapping to illustrate metal contamination and associated health hazards. The researchers have provided a powerful visual tool by overlaying these risks on maps featuring the administrative boundaries of villages in the BB industrial area.

"These maps serve a dual purpose," Dr. Joshi explains. "They help local residents understand the situation in their villages and guide policymakers and environmental agencies in pinpointing potential industrial pollution sources."

The study's maps show contamination hotspots linked to specific industries, crucial for targeted interventions and remediation.

The study calls for immediate action, emphasizing the need for improved wastewater treatment to reduce hazards. They advocate for stricter monitoring and regulation of industrial effluents, focusing on zinc, lead, nickel, and chromium.

The study emphasized the necessity for enhanced effluent treatment to mitigate these risks. Geospatial maps were developed to illustrate metal contamination and associated health risks, aiding residents in understanding the situation and pinpointing pollution sources. These maps can inform future policies and remediation initiatives.

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