Andhra ‘mystery’ illness: Latest tests disclose presence of pesticide residues in drinking water

Hindustan Times, Eluru (Andhra Pradesh) | By
Dec 09, 2020 05:48 PM IST

The disease left one dead and over 500 people with symptoms ranging from giddiness and convulsions to epilepsy; currently 76 people are hospitalised

As Andhra Pradesh health department looks into the source of heavy metals like lead and nickel in the blood samples of people in Eluru town who suffered from a mysterious disease in the past three days, latest tests revealed the presence of high residues of pesticides in drinking water samples.

Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy meets a patient, at a hospital in Eluru town on December 7.(File photo)
Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy meets a patient, at a hospital in Eluru town on December 7.(File photo)

The disease left one dead and over 500 people with symptoms ranging from giddiness and convulsions to epilepsy.

Reports of water samples tested by a Vijayawada-based private laboratory at the instance of Eluru Municipal Corporation (which were seen by Hindustan Times) indicated that the drinking water supplied to areas like Gandhi Colony, Ramachandra Rao Peta, Pension Line Area and JP Colony contained high quantities of various pesticide residues, thousands of times more than the permissible limits.

Drinking water sample obtained from Gandhi Colony contained 14.21 milligrams per litre (mg/lit) of a pesticide OP-DDD (Ortho-Para Dichloro-Diphenyl Dichloroethane) and 15.23 mg/lit of another pesticide PP-DDD.

Another sample collected from Ramachandra Rao Pet contained 10.89 mg/lit of pesticide Alachlor and 13.37 mg/lit of OP-DDE. Water samples collected from other areas also contained high quantity of Alachlor, DDE, DDD and DDT pesticides.

The samples were sent to the laboratory for testing on Sunday and the reports were submitted to the state health department on Tuesday night. “Test results of another 15 samples have come on Wednesday,” a senior official in the food safety division of Eluru municipal corporation told HT on condition of anonymity.

According to the official, parts of Eluru town get water supply from Godavari river and Krishna river through canals. Water samples from these canals were also tested and they were found to have residues of Alachlor and Methoxychlor to the extent of 10.88 mg/litre to as high as 17.64 mg/litre.

“The maximum permissible limit of these pesticide residues in all these water samples is <0.001 mg/litre,” the official quoted above said.

More water samples of various other localities were also sent to another private laboratory and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT) in Hyderabad for corroboration.

Interestingly, the laboratory tests of these drinking water samples have shown only minute traces of heavy metals like lead and nickel which were within permissible limits, but strangely, the blood samples of the affected patients tested by All India Institute of Medical Sciences showed high incidence of these metals.

“It is a strange phenomenon. But we suspect that the high presence of heavy metals in the blood samples of patients could be due to a process called biomagnification – accumulation in blood over a period of time and it will lead to symptoms of neuro-toxicity,” the official said.

Eluru government hospital superintendent AVR Mohan, who explained the latest developments to chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in a video conference, said apart from heavy metals like lead, presence of pesticides also was also responsible for the mysterious disease. “But there is nothing to worry. The incidence of the disease is getting reduced,” he said.

Ever since the mysterious disease surfaced in Eluru town on Saturday night, the municipal corporation authorities have been making efforts to find out the source of contamination of water. Preliminary inquiries revealed that the trouble could have started after the heavy rains and floods in October and November.

“There were flash floods to Tammileru river near Eluru, resulting in the breach of bund and flooding of crops and aquaculture ponds. While there is a heavy usage of pesticides in these crops and bromine in aquaculture, the run-off water could have entered the municipal water storage tank at Denduluru on the outskirts of Eluru town,” the municipal corporation official quoted above said.

Incidentally, the places which were affected in the town are those which are close to that municipal water tank. They receive water first, so they must have been affected first, he said.

In the past 48 hours, the authorities have been supplying mineral water to the people in the affected areas, instead of municipal water. “Now, the cases of mysterious disease are coming down,” the official said.

As of now, only 76 people are undergoing treatment and they would also be discharged shortly, the hospital authorities said.


    Srinivasa Rao is Senior Assistant Editor based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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