UN report: Sick Water
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued revised drinking water
guidelines, urging governments to strengthen water quality management and asking water suppliers to improve their faulty service to consumers,
in order to prevent often fatal water-borne diseases. In a statement issued in July 2011, the organisation says that despite
significant progress made in recent years and the availability of many technically feasible and low-cost solutions, almost one in five people
in South Asia still lack improved water resources. Over two million people die due to water-borne diseases like typhoid and
According to the report -- titled "Sick Water?" -- 90 percent of wastewater
discharged daily in developing countries is untreated, contributing to the deaths of some 2.2 million people a year from diarrheal diseases caused by
unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene. At least 1.8 million children younger than 5 die every year from water-related diseases, the report says.
But with proper management, the report notes, "wastewater can be an essential
resource for supporting livelihoods." The report's release was timed to coincide with World Water Day, an initiative
started in 1992 that aims to raise the profile of water quality.
Clean drinking water is a basic need
Adequate supply of fresh and clean drinking water is a basic need for all human beings on the earth, yet it has been observed
that millions of people worldwide are deprived of this. Industrial growth, urbanization and the increasing use of synthetic organic
substances have serious and adverse impacts on freshwater bodies.
Many areas of groundwater and surface water are now contaminated with heavy metals, POPs (persistent organic pollutants), and nutrients that have an adverse affect on health.
Today, 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually, 1.5 million
children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone. Until the 10th Five Year Plan, Neither the State itself, nor in partnership with private players has made it a
priority to deliver safe drinking water to the country’s 700 million rural population.
If waterborne diseases are eliminated, the sale of antibiotics will come down and pharmaceutical companies will lose revenue. But the flipside, to be
ruthlessly businesslike, is that in the long run, a healthier population will fuel economic growth and with it their purchasing power.
Water-borne diseases and water-caused health problems are mostly due to
inadequate and incompetent management of water resources. In the urban areas water gets contaminated in many different ways, some of
the most common reasons being leaky water pipe joints in areas where the water pipe and sewage line pass close together. Sometimes the water gets polluted at source due to various reasons and mainly due to inflow of sewage into the source.
Ground water can be contaminated through various sources and some of these are mentioned below.
Pesticides: Run-off from farms, backyards, and golf courses contain pesticides such as DDT that in turn contaminate the water.
Leech ate from landfill sites is another major contaminating source. Its effects on the ecosystems and health are endocrine and reproductive damage in wildlife. Groundwater is susceptible to contamination,
as pesticides are mobile in the soil. It is a matter of concern as these chemicals are persistent in the soil and water.
Sewage: Untreated or inadequately treated municipal sewage is a major source of groundwater and surface water pollution in the developing countries. The organic material that is
discharged with municipal waste into the watercourses uses substantial oxygen for biological degradation thereby upsetting the ecological balance of rivers and lakes. Sewage also carries microbial pathogens that are the cause of the spread of disease.
Nutrients: Domestic waste water, agricultural run-off, and industrial effluents contain phosphorus and nitrogen, fertilizer run-off, manure from livestock operations, which increase the level of nutrients in water bodies
and can cause eutrophication in the lakes and rivers and continue on to the coastal areas. The nitrates come mainly from the fertilizer that is added to the fields. Excessive use of fertilizers cause nitrate
contamination of groundwater, with the result that nitrate levels in drinking water is far above the safety levels recommended. Good agricultural
practices can help in reducing the amount of nitrates in the soil and thereby lower its content in the water.
Synthetic organics: Many of the 100 000 synthetic compounds in use today are found in the aquatic environment and accumulate in the food chain.
POPs or Persistent organic pollutants, represent the most harmful element for the ecosystem and for human health, for example, industrial chemicals and agricultural pesticides.
These chemicals can accumulate in fish and cause serious damage to human health. Where pesticides are used on a large-scale,
groundwater gets contaminated and this leads to the chemical contamination of drinking water.
Acidification: Acidification of surface water, mainly lakes and reservoirs, is one of the major environmental impacts of transport over long distance of air pollutants
such as sulphur dioxide from power plants, other heavy industry such as steel plants, and motor vehicles.
Chemicals in drinking water: Chemicals in water can be both naturally occurring or introduced by
human interference and can have serious health effects.
Fluoride: Fluoride in the water is essential for protection against dental caries and weakening of the bones,
but higher levels can have an adverse effect on health. In India, high fluoride content is found naturally in the waters in
Arsenic: Arsenic occurs naturally or is possibly aggravated
by over powering aquifers and by phosphorus from fertilizers. High concentrations of arsenic in water can have an adverse effect on
health. A few years back, high concentrations of this element was found in drinking water in six districts in West Bengal.
A majority of people in the area was found suffering from arsenic skin lesions. It was felt that arsenic
contamination in the groundwater was due to natural causes.
On April 01, 2010 at least 18 babies in several hamlets of Bihar’s Bhojpur district have been born
blind in the past three months because their families consume groundwater
containing alarming levels of arsenic, doctors said. Bihar’s Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav on Wednesday confirmed the cases of
blindness in newborns in arsenic-affected blocks of the district but said the
cause of blindness was not known. Though more than 16 districts of Bihar have reported arsenic contamination of
groundwater sources, Bhojpur emerged on top, with 1,861 parts per billion (ppb)
against the World Health Organization’s limit of 50 ppb.
Lead: Lead pipes, fittings, solder, and the service connections of some household plumbing systems contain lead that contaminates the drinking water source.
Recreational use of water: Untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and agricultural waste are often discharged into the water bodies such as the lakes,
coastal areas and rivers endangering their use for recreational purposes such as swimming and
Petrochemicals: Petrochemicals contaminate the groundwater from underground petroleum storage tanks.
Other heavy metals: These contaminants come from mining waste and tailings, landfills, or hazardous waste dumps.
Chlorinated solvents: Metal and plastic effluents, fabric cleaning, electronic and aircraft manufacturing are often discharged and contaminate groundwater
Pollution in water cause
that Water-born Disease
Pollution in water cause the following Water-borne diseases:
Bacterial infections Typhoid
Viral infections Infectious Hepatitis (jaundice)
Protozoal infections Amoebic dysentery
Water-borne diseases are infectious diseases spread primarily through contaminated water.
Though these diseases are spread either directly or through flies or filth, water is the chief medium for spread of these diseases and hence they are termed as water-borne diseases.
Most intestinal (enteric) diseases are infectious and are transmitted through
faeces waste. Pathogens – which include virus, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms – are disease-producing agents
found in the faeces of infected persons. These diseases are more prevalent in areas with poor sanitary conditions.
These pathogens travel through water sources and interfuses directly through persons handling food and water. Since these diseases are highly infectious, extreme care and hygiene should be maintained by people
looking after an infected patient. Hepatitis, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid are the more common water-borne diseases that affect large populations in the tropical regions.
A large number of chemicals that either exist naturally in the land or are added due to human activity dissolve in the water, thereby contaminating it and leading to various diseases.
Pesticides. The organophosphates and the carbonates present in pesticides affect and damage the nervous system and can cause cancer. Some of the pesticides contain carcinogens that exceed recommended levels.
They contain chlorides that cause reproductive and endocrinal damage.
Lead. Lead is hazardous to health as it accumulates in the body and affects the central nervous system. Children and pregnant women are most at risk
Excess fluorides can cause yellowing of the teeth and damage to the spinal cord and other crippling diseases.
In India, the most common cause of fluorosis is fluoride-laden water derived from
bore wells dug deep into the earth. Of India's 32 states, 17 have been identified as "endemic" areas for
fluorosis, with an estimated 25 million people impacted, and another 66 million "at risk."
According to doctors, there are three forms of fluoride poisoning or
fluorosis, the most common being dental fluorosis. The other two forms are skeletal and non-skeletal
fluorosis. Dental fluorosis causes yellow, brown or black streaks or spots on the teeth. There is no cure for dental
fluorosis. "It is this physical symptom which makes people aware, whereas skeletal fluorosis can go undetected for a long time," said Lady Hardinge Medical College's Pravesh
Mehra. Executive director of Fluorosis Research and Rural Development Foundation, A K Susheela said a large number of patients are directed to the foundation since tests for fluoride were not part
of the routine blood and urine tests conducted at government hospitals.
Meanwhile, the non-skeletal fluorosis affects the soft tissues in the body and one may develop health problems in a very short interval.
India's largest state, suffers from
fluorosis, a debilitating disease that damages bones and teeth, research by a voluntary body shows. "The incidence of
fluorosis, caused by an excess of fluoride compounds in drinking water, has been rising at an alarming rate in the state," says Mahitosh Bagoria of Health Environment and Development
Consortium. "It is estimated that around 25 percent of the rural population in the state is affected," he said...
Villagers who consume non-potable water suffer from yellow, cracked teeth, joint pains and crippled limbs and also age rapidly.
Nitrates. Drinking water that gets contaminated with nitrates can prove fatal
especially to infants that drink formula milk as it restricts the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain causing
the ‘blue baby’ syndrome. It is also linked to digestive tract cancers. It causes algae to bloom resulting in eutrophication in surface water.
Petrochemicals. Benzene and other petrochemicals can cause cancer even at low exposure levels.
Chlorinated solvents. These are linked to reproduction disorders and to some cancers.
Arsenic. Arsenic poisoning through water can cause liver and nervous system damage, vascular diseases and also skin cancer.
Other heavy metals. –Heavy metals cause damage to the nervous system and the kidney, and other metabolic disruptions.
Salts. It makes the fresh water unusable for drinking and irrigation purposes.
Exposure to polluted water can cause diarrhoea, skin irritation, respiratory problems, and other diseases, depending on the pollutant that is in the water body. Stagnant water and other untreated water provide
a habitat for the mosquito and a host of other parasites and insects that cause a large number of diseases especially in the tropical regions.
Among these, malaria is undoubtedly the most widely distributed and causes most damage to human health.
Flouride in water
Nearly 140 million people around the world being slowly “poisoned” by unsafe levels of
arsenic, it should. 6 million people in West Bengal, India, and up t0. 77
million people in Bangladesh – a country with a population of 160 million, are at risk of serious illness, if not premature death, as a
consequence of arsenic poisoning or “arsenicosis.”
According to the WHO, drinking arsenic-rich water over a long period results in a plethora of
ailments. The least severe include skin problems such as discoloration
and the hardening of skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the
feet. Beyond these, skin cancer, cancers of the bladder, kidney and lung, diseases impacting the blood vessels of the legs and feet, high
blood pressure, reproductive disorders and birth defects are common consequences. A 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences also
found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Report from JAISALMER on July 19, 2011: Young people have started looking old due to the increasing
fluoride content in water in many villages of Jaisalmer and Barmer districts. This is serious as problem of hunchback and bone related
diseases are on rise. Besides, people avoid marrying someone from these villages.
Dozens of families in Balu village of Barmer look old despite being young and many have developed hunchback. Excessive exploitation of
groundwater in many villages of Jaisalmer and Barmer has led to increase
of fluoride in water and in many places the ground water is not getting
recharged. The water level in these villages has declined by 20-25cm.
Senior ground water scientist Dr Narayan Das Inkhia said increasing
fluoride in groundwater is a matter of concern. The main reason is excessive exploitation of groundwater. He said recharge of ground water
is less while exploitation is more. Harmful elements from rocks at the
bottom get mixed with water. Inkhia said the WHO and other agencies have fixed standards for clean
drinking water which can have 1 ppm fluoride in water with 500-7000 TDS
(total dissolved solid), whereas in Jaisalmer, the fluoride content in
Bhagu village is 4.48ppm, Chandhan 3.04ppm, Lathi 2ppm, Basanpeer 5.76ppm, Hamira 3.60ppm, Tejmalta 2.56ppm, Koria 2.24, Beelia 2.49ppm,
Bainsda 2.32, Chandsar 2.48, Adbala 6ppm and Dalapura 7.
New method for
removing arsenic from water
Scientists have just unveiled an easy-to-use, inexpensive method for
removing arsenic from contaminated drinking water using chopped up bits
of discarded plastic bottles. The plastic chips are first coated in cysteine – an amino acid nutrient that is commonly found in foods and
nutritional supplements, before they can be used as filters. Requiring
no other technology or special skills, the filters are simply immersed
in untreated water, stirred and then removed, leaving behind safe drinking water. With complex purification technology beyond the reach of
the many developing world communities that suffer from dangerously high
levels of the toxic metalloid element in their water supply, this
surprisingly simple method of filtration, could quite literally save
lives. Not just tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, but many millions.
WHO's guidelines on water quality
* Drink only bottled water or other beverages (carbonated beverages,
pasteurised juices and milk) provided in sealed tamper-proof containers
and bottled/canned by known manufacturers (preferably certified by responsible authorities). Hotel personnel or local hosts are often good
sources of information about which local brands are safe.
* Drink water that has been treated effectively at point of use (that
is, through boiling, filtration or chemical disinfection) and stored in clean containers.
* Drink hot beverages such as coffee and tea that are made with boiled
water and are kept hot.
* Avoid brushing teeth with unsafe water.
* Do not use ice unless it has been made from safe water.
* Avoid salads or other uncooked foods that may have been washed or prepared with unsafe water.
WHO believes that water can be a source of not only microbial, but also
chemical or radiological hazards and consideration needs to given to
other sources like food, air, person-to-person contact, consumer products, poor sanitation and personal hygiene.
The guidelines for water suppliers and regulators describe the need to
check the points of contamination and act on the findings. These include,
* Instituting minimum procedures, specific guideline values and how these should be used.
* Modes of transport used by water vendors.
* Microbial hazards, which continue to be the primary concern in both
developing and developed countries.
* Comprehensive risk management, water safety plans, sanitary surveys
that include the water supply system and its operation.
Uranium in Punjab water
The Indian Government has finally taken cognizance of the severity of
uranium contamination in Punjab's water and has acknowledged that it is the only state in the country which is reeling under this unique and
dangerous problem. The uranium content in the waters of Punjab has not only been increasing but spreading too.
A recent study by Punjab health department has revealed that uranium content has been found to be 50% above the
permissible WHO limit in eight districts of the state. Earlier, only two districts -- Faridkot and Ferozepur -- had reported
uranium in their water and the related health problems. Union minister
for rural development and panchayats Jairam Ramesh admitted on July 7, 2012 that Punjab was the only state in the country where uranium
content in the water is higher than the permissible limit set by the
WHO. While announcing a state-of-the-art lab with the assistance of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, to
detect the presence of uranium and heavy metals in water, Ramesh said the water situation in Punjab was really bad.
Apart from detecting uranium pollution, Ramesh said that his focus is on
supplying 'safe' water for all the households getting only contaminated
supply now. As per state government's survey, out of total 2,462 water
samples, 1,140 samples tested positive for the radioactive metal. Water
contaminated with uranium was found in Malwa districts of the state,
including Mansa, Bathinda, Moga, Faridkot, Barnala, Sangrur and some
parts of Ludhiana as well.
Water-borne epidemics and health hazards in the aquatic environment are mainly due to improper management of water resources.
Proper management of water resources has become the need of the hour as this would ultimately lead to a cleaner and
healthier environment. In order to prevent the spread of water-borne infectious
diseases, people should take adequate precautions. The city water supply should be
properly checked and necessary steps taken to disinfect it. Water pipes should be
regularly checked for leaks and cracks. At home, the water should be boiled, filtered, or
other methods and necessary steps taken to ensure that it is free from infection.