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‘Lead pollutes groundwater in 19 Maharashtra districts; most in India’

Experts said the high concentration of the heavy metal, attributed to improper hazardous waste treatment and industrial pollution, can have major health impacts, especially as groundwater is a primary source of drinking water in rural areas.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2019 05:51 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Lead in groundwater,Lead,Maharashtra districts
The quantity of lead in Maharashtra’s groundwater is the highest in India with 19 of state’s 36 districts reporting the presence of the heavy metal above safe levels(AP File Photo)

The quantity of lead in Maharashtra’s groundwater is the highest in India with 19 of state’s 36 districts reporting the presence of the heavy metal above safe levels, revealed data from the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), which operates under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

The presence of lead above 0.01 milligram in a litre (mg/l) of groundwater is considered hazardous. Experts said the high concentration of the heavy metal, attributed to improper hazardous waste treatment and industrial pollution, can have major health impacts, especially as groundwater is a primary source of drinking water in rural areas.

The data was part of a report on chemical contaminants in groundwater that was submitted by the Union environment ministry before the Rajya Sabha on Monday. Other states with high lead contamination in groundwater are Haryana (17 districts), Madhya Pradesh (16 districts) and Uttar Pradesh (10 districts).

Lead, a naturally-found element, is used in the production of lead acid batteries, alloys, cables and ammunition, etc. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes lead as a cumulative general poison, which can adversely affect the central nervous systems of children up to six years of age, foetuses, and pregnant women.

Water experts said there is a need to identify the exact quantity of lead in groundwater in each district. “Lead is dangerous and a matter of concern. While preliminary data does not indicate that groundwater across the entire district is contaminated, we need to study exact areas where the contamination is high,” said Dr P Nandakumaran, scientist and member secretary, CGWB.

Hydrogeologist Himanshu Kulkarni, director, Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), who has also been part of several Central government committees on groundwater conservation, said, “We need to probe deeper to identify the exact amount in each district, the sources, and its impact. Essentially, for all these rural districts, drinking water supply is predominantly from groundwater and this is threatened.”

Dipankar Saha, former additional director, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), said the improper treatment or recycling of hazardous waste is one of the reasons behind lead pollution in groundwater. “Landfills where hazardous waste — mostly used batteries — pile up for years or collected waste near industries are not being recycled properly. Both leach into the ground during rains, polluting the groundwater,” said Saha.

Dr Nandakumaran said that in Maharashtra, the heavy metal presence is associated with industrial pollution. “Unlike fluoride and arsenic, abundantly present in nature, lead comes from industries utilising lead-based components. Such pollution is restricted to industrial belts where effluent disposal is improper,” he said.

However, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) said that according to their studies, “industries are not responsible for lead pollution”. “Similar details were presented before the National Green Tribunal, but a detailed study was needed. Groundwater pollution is not our mandate…However, we will study details to identify what sources could be responsible,” said YB Sontakke, joint director (water quality), MPCB.

CGWB members said the recently-launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan will address issues of groundwater quality.

“Led by the Prime Minister, the Jal Shakti Abhiyan will be a major move to change the current groundwater scenario in terms of depletion and improvement of water quality. It is in the process of becoming a mass movement with a concerted drive for water conservation and creation of awareness with involvement of all stakeholders,” said Dr Nandakumaran.

First Published: Jul 14, 2019 05:51 IST