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A death valley along the Ganga

Appalling levels of carcinogenic metals have been found in human tissues and water samples in the region lying between Delhi and Patna along the Ganga. A report by Alifiya Khan.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2008 01:39 IST
Alifiya Khan

The cancer valley of India lies between Delhi and Patna along the Ganga.

A joint study by Indian and Japanese doctors for over two years, whose results are yet to be officially published, has found that the region has the second highest rate of gall bladder cancer occurrence in the world. Only in Chile is it higher. The rate is three to four times higher than in any other part of India.

The study, conducted by the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association (IHPBA) only reaffirms an earlier Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) finding that gall bladder cancer among women in north India, including Delhi, was the highest in the world – 10.6 out of every lakh women. The findings of the project will now be sent to a peer-reviewed journal for publishing.

The study has concluded that the high rate is due to pollution of the Ganga waters and the soil around with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chromium.

The project, which screened 22,000 people across 60 villages in the Indo Gangetic belt with the help of Mumbai-based International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), found the incidence of cancer in the region was between 12 and 20 for every 1,00,000 people. The corresponding figure for southern India is 0.8 while for Mumbai is 1.2. (In Chile, it is 24 people per lakh.)

Three sites were selected in rural Patna, Vaishali and Varanasi districts. “We tested the soil and the water, as well as the tissue samples of people suffering from gall bladder cancer,” said Dr Palepu Jagannath, chairman of the 8th World Congress of the IHPBA currently being held in Mumbai.

The soil and water samples were sent to Industrial Toxicology Research Centre in Lucknow for analysis, while the tissue and hair samples went to the Aichi Cancer Centre in Nagoya, Japan. “High levels of cadmium, lead and chromium were found in the samples of soil and water,” said Debanshu Bhandari, an oncologist from Pune who was part of the project. “The same heavy metals were also present in the tissue of gall bladder affected people that was sent to us,” said Yugi Nimura, president of the Aichi Cancer Centre. “The correlation is dangerous,” he said. “Your country should become extremely alert.”

Dr JK Singh, director of the Mahavir Cancer Sansthan, Patna, who was also involved with the project, noted that 13 per cent of patients at his institute suffered from gall bladder cancer. “While lead, cadmium and chromium are not directly carcinogenic, they lower immunity levels,” said Prof MC Pant of the Radiotherapy department at the Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University in Lucknow.

(With inputs from Sanchita Sharma in Delhi, Binod Dubey in Patna and Gaurav Sehgal in Lucknow)