My interaction with the problem of arsenic began when I met Prof. Hiroshi Yokota of Miyazaki University (MU), Japan in December 2005 at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK). Prof. Yokota came to Kanpur seeking partnerships with Prof. Punendu Bose of IITK and Eco Friends - a Kanpur based environmental NGO so that he could conduct a preliminary survey of arsenic contamination and mitigation situation in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, India. The idea behind the preliminary survey in Ballia was to explore the possibility to make good use of ten years of successful experience in arsenic mitigation measures by MU in Bangladesh. We all agreed to meet at Varanasi on January 5, 2006 and then proceed to Ballia to carry out our survey.
Arsenic problem in Uttar Pradesh was first reported in 2003 by School of Environmental Studies, Jadhavpur University (SOES-JU). The institute reported arsenic above 50 µg/l in several villages of Ballia, Ghazipur and Varanasi districts of Uttar Pradesh. In its findings published in April 2005, SOES-JU reported the Uttar Pradesh ground water arsenic contamination to be as grave as in West Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh.
Preliminary survey in Ballia (Jan 7-10, 2006) For Test Results....click here...
Ballia district is the easternmost part of UP state and borders with Bihar State in the east. It comprises an irregularly shaped tract extending westward from the confluence of the river Ganga and river Ghaghra. The district lies between the parallels of 25º33' and 26º11' North latitudes and 83º38' and 84º39' East longitudes. The geographical area is 3168 sq. km and the total population is 2.7 million. There are 17 Development Blocks in Ballia.
UP Jal Nigam (UPJN), the key agency responsible for conducting survey and executing arsenic mitigation measures has tested 10151 hand pumps for arsenic in all 17 Blocks. UPJN has reported 1122 hand pumps in 12 Blocks to be contaminated with arsenic exceeding 50 µg/l. 5 Blocks are most severely affected. As far as mitigation measures are concerned, till date 250 deep hand pumps (up to 90 m) have been set up in the affected villages. 15 Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) systems, 15 Dug Wells (DW) and 170 Domestic Filters (DF) are proposed in the affected villages.
We visited Dubhad, Belhari, Pandah and Rasda Blocks in Ballia district from Jan 7 to 10, 2006. The arsenic contamination in Dubhad and Belhari Blocks was known to us from the reports of Prof. Chakraborti et al., M.M Gaumat et al. and UP Jal Nigam/UNICEF. We visited Pandah and Rasda Blocks out of curiosity to find out if these Blocks were also arsenic affected. We wanted to know the extent of arsenic contamination and measures for arsenic mitigation being carried out in the affected villages. We were also looking for the arsenic affected villages which needed support most and where University of Miyazaki could initiate integrated arsenic mitigation project.
Our team carried out rapid assessment and situational analysis in half a dozen villages. A team of a researcher and 4 students from Miyazaki University tested the water on the spot from hand pumps for arsenic with the help of Field Test Kits and also collected water samples for further tests in Japan. The team also noted down the locations of the hand pumps with the help of GPS. The depth of each hand pump was also noted down. The medical doctor from Miyazaki University (MU) examined people for arsenicosis. I, Prof. Hiroshi and a senior official from Asia Arsenic Network (AAN) visited door to door, talked to people and held group discussions.
- Most of the hand pumps we tested were arsenic contaminated. Nine hand pumps tested in Hariharpur of Belhari Block were all contaminated with arsenic in the range of 0.08 mg/l to 0.43mg/l. Five out of six hand pumps tested were contaminated with arsenic in the range of 0.08mg/L to 0.20mg/l in Sawarubandh village of Dubhad Block.
- We came across half a dozen arsenicosis patients in Chainchapra village of Belhari Block. Five members of a family (45, 14, 12, 8, 3 years of age) and a lady (60 years old) in Hariharpur village of Belhari Block were diagnosed as chronic arsenicosis patients by the dermatologist of University of Miyazaki.
- People in general seemed to be aware that the groundwater they were using for drinking was contaminated and not worth consumption. But majority of them were ignorant about the exact nature and extent of the contamination.
- People seemed to be aware that the water which they were consuming was impacting their health but were oblivious of the true nature of the health impacts.
- The symptoms of melanosis and keratosis were mistaken as leprosy by the people.
- Most of the villagers had very little awareness about arsenic poisoning.
- Most of the arsenicosis patients were anxious to get some medicine or prescription for the medicine. They did not know that they needed safe water and nutritious food with vitamins A, C and E, instead of some medicine. They completely lacked medical advice.
- Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has drilled 4 exploratory wells (up to roughly 1000 ft. depth) in affected areas which will later be developed as tube wells for piped water supply to neighbouring villages in respective areas. But this scheme may take 2-3 years before it is completed.
- Hariharpur in Belhari Block and Sawarubandh in Dubhad Block are out of proposed piped water supply though the water is severely contaminated in these villages.
Meetings with government officials at Lucknow (March 21 & 22, 2006)
Prof. Hiroshi, Miss Sachi Tsushima and I held meetings with UNICEF, UPJN, CGWB and King George Medical University (KGMU) officials who are involved in arsenic mitigation activities in UP. The objective of the meetings was to seek information about the arsenic problem and mitigation plan in UP and share our findings, and propose integrated arsenic mitigation plan. The meetings were very fruitful and the officials were very open and transparent in sharing the findings and arsenic mitigation activities (on-going and proposed).
A brief report of my visit to Bangladesh (May 3-May 10, 2006) For detail click here...
Preliminary survey in Gazipur (September 4-14, 2006)
As mentioned in the beginning, we were hunting for the 2 most deserving villages which were arsenic affected and were out of safe drinking water supply scheme. We had almost decided to adopt Hariharpur of Belhari Block and Sawarubandh of Dubhad Block for implementation of integrated arsenic mitigation project. The project aims at ensuring safe water to inhabitants and improving arsenic disease condition in model villages. Two deep hand pumps have already been installed in Hariharpur by UPJN. Therefore, we had to rethink and change our decision. We decided to look for more deserving villages which could be adopted for implementing the proposed integrated arsenic mitigation project in the neighbouring Gazipur district.
Gazipur borders with Ballia and Bihar in the east. It lies between the parallels of 25° 19' and 25° 54' north latitude and 83° 4' and 83° 58' east longitude. This location is 67.50 m above the sea level. The length of district from East to West is 90 km. and width from North to South is 64 km. River Ganges from one side and Karmnasa from other side divide it from Bihar State. Ghazipur is garlanded by Ganga, Karmnasa and Gomti, that makes this district stronger in economic and geographic condition. The total geographic area of this district is 3384 sq. km. The population of the district is roughly 3 million. There are 16 development blocks in Gazipur.
We had information from the reports of Prof. Chakraborti and UP Jal Nigam/UNICEF that some villages of Gazipur were arsenic affected. Therefore, we decided to visit arsenic affected areas of Gazipur.
A team comprising Dr. Mitsuhiro Sezaki from MU, Miss Sachi Tsushima from AAN Bangladesh and members from Eco Friends visited Karkatpur, Kutiyan, Dharmarpur and Balwantpur villages of Karanda Block and Dahan, Kharauna, Tetarpur villages of Saidpur Block in Gazipur. We also met UPJN executive engineer to seek information about arsenic affected villages, magnitude of arsenic contamination and mitigation measures, if any. We were informed that arsenic tests were carried out in 9 Blocks out of 16 Blocks and 3 Blocks were found to be arsenic affected. 6 villages in Karanda Block (arsenic concentration ranging from 20 ppb to 140 ppb) and 5 villages in Saidpur Block (arsenic concentration between 70 ppb-240 ppb) were found to be arsenic affected, informed the executive engineer. We could not get any detail about Reotipur Block.
Later we were joined by a team of 5 members (1 chemist and 4 students from MU). The team conducted comprehensive survey in mauja (a small part of a village) GN Chak of Dahan village (Saidpur Block) and Karkatpur, Kutiyan, Dharmarpur and Balwantpur villages (Karanda Block). A door to door survey was conducted to find out arsenicosis patients, each hand pump was tested for arsenic and other parameters like temperature, ORP, Electrical Conductivity and DO on the spot, the depth of each hand pump was recorded, water samples were collected for further tests in Japan, and location of each hand pump which was tested was recorded with the help of GPS in the villages mentioned above. We also held focus group discussions.
Out of 21 hand pumps (5 govt. and 16 private) tested, only one hand pump was found to be arsenic contaminated (70 ppb) in GN Chak of Dahan village. Surprisingly, we came across two arsenicosis patients who had clear symptoms of keratosis.
Out of 44 hand pumps (6 govt. and 38 private) tested in Karkatpur village, arsenic could not be detected in 3 hand pumps, 4 hand pumps were found to be containing arsenic between 50 ppb-90 ppb, 21 hand pumps were found to be containing arsenic between 100 ppb-400 ppb and 9 hand pumps reported arsenic between 500 ppb-1000 ppb. The depth of the hand pumps ranged from 60 ft. to 140 ft., majority of them were above 100 ft. depth. We came across half a dozen arsenicosis patients who had symptoms of melanosis and keratosis.
6 hand pumps each were tested in Dharmarpur, Balwantpur and Kutiyan villages. Only 3 hand pumps in Balwantpur were found to be contaminated with arsenic (200 ppb-400 ppb). We did not come across any arsenicosis patient. These villages, especially Balwantpur need more comprehensive survey.
No arsenic mitigation measures have been initiated in these villages. People are forced to drink arsenic contaminated water. Recently UP Chief Minister visited Karkatpur and announced a piped water scheme for Karkatpur and the neighbouring villages. UPJN has yet to prepare the project proposal for the same.
There is total lack of awareness. Some people in Karkatpur seemed to be aware that the water was not worth drinking, it contained some harmful chemical. This awareness had dawned on them through visits of Prof. Chakroborty and team and testing done by UPJN and most important of all through media reports.
People were completely ignorant about the health impacts of arsenic. The arsenicosis patients were oblivious of the fact that their health problem came from the drinking water which was laced with slow poison arsenic.
Meetings with govt. officials at Lucknow on Sept. 11, 2006
I, Dr Sezaki and Miss Sachie held meetings with UNICEF and UPJN officials to update ourselves with the progress in regard with arsenic problem and mitigation measures in UP. We also shared our findings and plan with the officials. We also had a meeting with Secretary, Department of Groundwater and Minor Irrigation, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Arun Arya. We were informed about the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the groundwater situation in UP. The Secretary Mr. Arun Arya seemed to be very enthusiastic and ambitious about his plan to get the irrigation water, soil and the entire food chain tested for arsenic contamination in the arsenic affected areas. He also had an imagination to make arsenic free irrigation water available to farmers so that the contamination of the food chain could be prevented.
A short and rapid survey in Lakhimpur Kheri (Sept. 16-18)
We knew about arsenic contamination problem in Lakhimpur Kheri through reports of Sriram Institute of Industrial Research (SIIR)/UNICEF and UPJN/UNICEF. Under Phase I during testing for screening, UPJN/UNICEF had discovered 104 hand pumps to be contaminated with arsenic exceeding 50 ppb. Later after completion of testing under Phase II, 956 out of 5050 hand pumps in 5 Blocks were found to be contaminated with arsenic exceeding 50 ppb. As far as mitigation measures are concerned, 50 deep hand pumps (80-90 m depth) have been set up in arsenic affected villages. Ballia and Lakhimpur Kheri are the two districts where mitigation measures have been carried out by UPJN/UNICEF. Therefore, we decided to visit Lakhimpur Kheri also to assess the situation there.
Lakhimpur Kheri is a bordering district of Uttar Pradesh lying in the Terai region of Himalayan foothills. Lakhimpur is surrounded on North by Nepal. The district lies between the parallels of 27º6' and 28º6' North latitudes and 80º34' and 81º30' East longitudes. Total geographical area of the district is 7680 sq km. Main rivers of the district are Sharda, Ghagra, Koriyala, Sarayan, Chauka, Gomati, Kathana, Saryu & Mohana.
We visited Bujhwa, Trilokpur, Lokanpurwa and Sariapara villages of Pallia Block. One deep hand pump each has been set up in Bujhwa, Lokanpurwa and Sariapara while 3 deep hand pumps have been installed in Trilokpur. CGWB has completed one exploratory well in Rampurwa and is drilling one more in Trilokpur.
- Water testing is being done by UPJN and a Lakhimpur based NGO Banvasi Sewa Ashram.
- Each hand pump reported to be contaminated with arsenic exceeding 50 ppb has been replaced with deep hand pump in Pallia Block, informed the UPJN worker.
- UPJN worker claimed that on an average he would check 100 hand pumps for arsenic on a given day which seems improbable. He was being paid @ Rs. 5 for each test.
- Banwasi Sewa Ashram reported 5-6 arsenicosis patients but we could not meet any arsenicosis patient.
- There is negligible awareness about arsenic poisoning, though Banwasi Sewa Ashram claimed to have organised awareness programs in some affected villages. The awareness level can be gauged from the fact that people held opinion that a kind of harmful germ was present in their drinking water which could cause skin problems and leprosy.
Analysis and recommendations
There is no doubt about the severity of the arsenic contamination of the potable waters of Ballia and Gazipur in UP. There is also no denying the fact that there is an urgency to address the problem on a war footing. People simply can not be let to consume slow poison. Matching and massive efforts and resources and most important of all honest and planned efforts are needed to stop the slow poisoning of the people on a mass scale.
The arsenic contamination problem in Ballia and Gazipur came to light for the first time in 1993, as usual in the beginning there was denial from the government that the problem existed, precious time was lost before government admitted that the problem existed. Though governmental agencies have been galvanized into action, still the progress is very slow. There is an integrated arsenic mitigation plan but it exists on paper only. There is no dearth of resources, I am informed. But the resource mobilization remains ineffective. There is a Task Force comprising UPJN, CGWB, UNICEF, KGMU, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC) and experts from IITK and other institutions at the state level to coordinate the arsenic mitigation related activities but there is a lack of coordination amongst various partners/agencies. UPJN seems to be interested only in setting up deep hand pumps while CGWB focuses on drilling exploratory wells. There is absolutely no documentation of the arsenicosis patients. If some documentation has been done by KGMU, is not known even to the district administration. People are confused and panicked in absence of medical counseling. Monitoring system is completely lacking. Awareness level is extremely low in communities.
Governmental efforts need to be stepped up, strengthened and streamlined. There is lack of experience, professionalism and commitment required to deal with arsenic problem effectively in the officials/employees who have been entrusted with the responsibilities.
Following steps are recommended to make governmental efforts and intervention meaningful and fruitful:
- An effective Arsenic Task Force (ATF) needs to be constituted with some higher official as chairperson. The reconstituted ATF should have State Groundwater Board, Central Pollution Control Board and civil society representative apart from existing members. ATF should also be constituted at the district level with District Magistrate as chairperson.
- Those who have been entrusted with the responsibility to deal with the arsenic problem should get proper training, orientation and exposure through study tours in other states/countries for elevating their skill in the management of arsenic testing and for deepening their knowledge on various mitigation technologies. Doctors, health/social workers and nurses should be specially trained for diagnosing and advising arsenicosis patients.
- Arsenic awareness campaign should be launched by adopting various mass communication techniques.
- Each hand pump tested for arsenic should be marked suitably. Each public hand pump tested is to be marked, preferably stamped, with a unique identification code at the time of testing.. Also the hand pumps with arsenic contamination of more than 300 mg/l are proposed to be dismantled by removing its handle through the intervention of Gram Panchayat. Sources of drinking water tested by field test kits, with suspected arsenic concentration in the range 40 mg/l to 80 mg/l, till the results of more accurate AAS are available, will be painted/marked ‘Yellow’. Water sources found to have arsenic concentration of less than 40 µg/l with field test kits will have their spouts painted/marked ‘Blue’. But these markings/paintings have not been done uniformly.
- Location (latitude, longitude and altitude) of the tested hand pump using a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) should be recorded which is not being done.
- There should be a strict monitoring system to ensure that the testing protocol is being followed and tests are being done properly.
- Clinical and epidemiological studies should be carried out in High Risk Areas (HRAs).
- 50 mg/l standard for arsenic in drinking water is high, therefore this interim standard should be revised to 10mg/l standard.
- There should be a pilot project for integrated arsenic mitigation as proposed by MU. Some village should be adopted to be developed as a Model Village and the success of the same should be replicated on a wider scale.
- Media should be involved in generating awareness, putting pressure on authorities and policing the mitigation activities.