Toxic chemicals sprayed on fruit trees in Kashmir orchards is causing fatal brain cancer in the valley.
A study found that 90 percent of patients who die from malignant brain tumor in the valley is linked to orchards where pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are used. It says that the incidence is alarming.
Jammu and Kashmir has around 347223 hectares of land area under orchards and most of it is situated in the valley where apples, apricots, walnut and almonds are grown in huge quantities.
Every year until harvest season orchardists spray tens of thousands of metric tonnes of chemicals like Chlorpyriphos, Mancozeb, Captan, Dimethoate and Phosalone to prevent fruits from disease. Most of the chemicals are established carcinogenics.
The study titled 'Pesticides and brain cancer linked in orchard farmers of Kashmir' revealed that 389 out of 432 patients who had died of brain cancer from 2005-2008 were orchard-farm workers, residents living near orchards or simply children playing there.
The youngest of them was a female infant.
"About 31.9% (124 out of 389 who died) of these were younger than 40 years, beginning exposure at an early age," says the study published by Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology.
"They include 23 pregnant women and 11 lactating mothers."
The study was published in 2011, but Dr Abdul Rasheed Bhat of the neurosurgery department at SKIMS, who led the study team, told Hindustan Times that the number of brain cancer patients admitted in the hospital is rising.
"Most of the patients I operated upon had a history with orchards and pesticides. During the study we also found cases where various members of the same family were diagnosed with brain cancer," he says.
The study, quoting data from agriculturists, says that the use of synthetic pesticides and other chemicals in Kashmir has increased drastically in the past three decades. It blames orchard farmers who often "abuse" and spray trees with more than the recommended doses.
The fatal chemicals are "directly absorbed through skin, inhalation and ingestion."
Dr Rasheed believes the toxins also affect those who are not orchard owners, but live in the vicinity.
"The pesticides sometimes go into wells in the orchards and somebody drinks that water. Or sheep may eat grass sprayed with these chemicals. Even high winds can take the carcinogenic dust and affect those who inhale it," he says.