Ganga-Meghna Brahmaputra || West Bengal || Bangladesh || Middle Ganga Plain, Bihar || Uttarpradesh
Jharkhand || North-East Hilly States || Rajnandgaon, Chattisgarh || Behala, Kolkata, WB || As toxicity- Homeopathic Treatment
Effectiveness & Reliability - As Field Testing Kits || Utility Of Treatment Plant
Causes, Effects & Remedies - Groundwater As Calamity || References

Endangered Generations :Groundwater Arsenic Contamination in West Bengal, India

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Arsenic in ampule water for injection

While surveying the arsenic contamination in various products in villages, suburbs, cities we have found arsenic in water ampules for injections (Photograph 10). This water is used as a solvent for many life saving medicines. Since then we have conducted arsenic test in hundreds of injection ampules from villages, suburbs of many districts of West Bengal including Kolkata. We had analyzed hundreds of water-injection ampules from 14 companies available in districts of West Bengal. We have found arsenic in the water of the ampules manufactured by some companies in West Bengal and Bihar. The result of our tests is tabulated in Table 5.

Table 5: Arsenic in Injection Ampules

Location of companies No. of companies No. of companies in which arsenic above 3 µg/l has been found No. of companies in which arsenic above 10 µg/l has been found No. of companies in which arsenic above 50 µg/l has been found Maximum arsenic concentration (µg/l)
West Bengal 8 6 4 2 368
Bihar 3 3 4 2 206
Gujrat 1 - - - -
Madhya Pradesh 1 - - - -
Tamilnadu 1 - - - -
Bangladesh 10 7 7 2 64

We have examined many batches of each and every company and have found some batches of a particular company to contain arsenic while in other batches of the same company, the water has been found to be free of the element. This finding proves that most probably these companies are using ground water from contaminated districts for their injection ampoules and while water was purified, arsenic was properly removed in some batches, the same had not been done always. Arsenic has been found in vials manufactured by 3 companies in Bihar. These findings are very important. There can be two explanations: either arsenic is present in the water of Bihar or the ampules are being manufactured in West Bengal in the name of Bihar. Arsenic has not been found in the water ampules of Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat or Tamilnadu.

The arsenic problem in Bangladesh is more acute. After conducting tests on injection ampules manufactured by 10 companies in Bangladesh, we have found in ampules of 7 such companies arsenic exceeds recommended limit for drinking water set by WHO (10 µg/l). Although arsenic content of 10 µg makes water unfit for drinking, yet it must be taken into account that arsenic from injection ampules is directly entering the blood stream. How much it will cause damage is not the main issue, we need to ponder at this point over the degree of callousness that makes the presence of arsenic in injection ampules possible.

How to combat the arsenic menace

We have been trying relentlessly for the last 17 years to present the severity and future danger of the arsenic problem in West Bengal. But our efforts do not seem to have succeeded specially in drawing the attention of government officials and ministers. Many correspondences made to them have not even received a reply. During last 10 years all our efforts have received certain patent comments from the government circles. They have accused us of spreading panic among innocent citizens. They even characterized our findings as incorrect and untrue. We have been branded as self-centered people catering to our vested interest in spreading lies. On 8th March 1993 the first arsenic patient from Kolkata was identified in Jadavpur. Arsenic was found in the water of the area also. Gradually, arsenic was found in the groundwater of Lake Gardens, Bansdroni and Alipore areas of Kolkata. On every occasion the government branded our findings as lies. It was only on 22nd May 2001 the government finally accepted that even Kolkata is not free from the arsenic danger (Civic body admits arsenic presence, The Statesman, Tuesday 22 May, 2001). Had they paid heed to our warnings 10 years back when the first patients was identified from Jadavpur, then some innocent citizens of Kolkata would have been spared from drinking contaminated water. When the arsenic situation of West Bengal is so grave, the arsenic chief. Engineer, PHED, Govt. of West Bengal in an international meeting in Bangladesh during August, 2000 told that the total number of arsenic patients in West Bengal is 450 and arsenic free drinking water is now supplied to the doorsteps of the people in the affected areas through pipeline networks (Fact sheet 13 on Arsenic: A Disaster Forum Publication, Dhaka, Bangladesh, p-10). Also The health minister govt. of West Bengal in an interview on 5, April 1999 also told that the arsenic situation is much better now than what it was during 1983 (Arsenic Problem is not Serious: Medical World: Special Health day copy, 5th April 1999).

We have been trying to stress the solutions to the arsenic problem for many years now. The general misconception is that it is a problem faced by poor villagers only. But this not so. The greater percentage of the patients being villagers is due to the absence of nutritious items in their daily diets. They are not aware of the extent and seriousness of their problems. When tubewell water was first made available to them in 1960, they had rejected it fearfully by branding it, "The Devil's Water" and by running away from it. Today they are wholly dependent on that tubewell water. While we have staged a full fledged revolution with tubewell water, equal distribution of our huge available surface water i.e. river, canal, flooded river basins, oxbow lakes, lagoons, rain water has been totally neglected by us. West Bengal and Bangladesh have been referred to as the land of rivers and rains. Had we succeeded in conservation and effective distribution of these huge amounts of water then most of our water problems would have been solved (Photoraph 11)?

In spite of having such an ampule supply of water, we are indiscriminately exploiting our groundwater reserves. Even in the monsoon season we resort to groundwater extraction if it does not rain for 3 / 4 days. Today, about 70 million Indians are suffering from fluorosis and fluoride contaminated drinking water is the root cause of the situation. 120 million people are at risk from arsenic problem in West Bengal and Bangladesh. By drawing up underground water we ourselves have created this problem. Even 2600 years before in the days of the Mahabharat we are aware of the existence of the groundwater. (This is exemplified by the incident when the great warrior Bhisma lying on the bed of arrows was given underground water to drink.). But we had prevented ourselves from its exploitation and preserved the equilibrium in nature. We used groundwater in Kolkata also. But if the rain received by the city (Photograph 12) is properly stored on rooftop and subsequently used for household consumption, then we can prevent the increased use of groundwater for as much as five months in a year. A few years back, I had requested the chairman of the assembly house to issue building permissions to only those houses that would provide rainwater storage facilities on their terraces and also to exempt some income tax to those who will use their existing roof for rainwater harvest. I had also asked him to levy a water tax as would check the wastage of water at the hands of residents. But none of my proposals have been implemented so far.

The primary task in our hands now is to make the villagers conscious of the terrifying nature of the arsenic problem faced by us all. We have to implement laws and rules to control groundwater extraction. We must use groundwater only as our last resort. Since independence, we have not worked hand in hand with villagers in the eradication of problems. If the arsenic menace is to be eradicated then the full cooperation of the village folk is an absolute necessity. Water management is necessary with people's participation.

Nature is our ultimate mother. We have reversed her laws, her methods of functioning, which she created from thousands of years of her experience in her laboratory, and thus violating that we have brought this curse upon us. Nature is now the only solace for the people of West Bengal and Bangladesh and we can free our selves from this curse with the help of nature. We should desist from draining groundwater the lifeblood of our mother. Surface water, Her breast milk is enough to sustain us all. All human beings living anywhere in the world should learn to respect and preserve nature's bounty.

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Dubious Tradition || Endangered Generation || Arsenic Orphans